No book, of course, should be judged by its cover—but how to categorize a book with two very different ones? Julianne Pachico’s thrilling debut, The Lucky Ones, billed as “a novel” on the front of the American version and, by its English publisher, as a “collection of stories,” manages the feat of making the question irrelevant. Each chapter is, on the surface, a self-contained story with its own narrator, set in a particular time and place. Yet each story haunts the others—echoing, amplifying, complicating them. One character’s fleeting thoughts turn out to concern another’s deepest trauma; shared memories are cast in contradictory lights. And though every taut chapter clarifies a plot whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts, each remains tantalizingly incomplete.
The Lucky Ones, roiling conventions of form and narrative, starts in 2003, backtracks to 1993, and ends in 2013, with plenty of twists and turns in between. The book revolves around a small cast of wealthy girls who met in kindergarten in an international school in Valle del Cauca, Colombia, in the 1990s. Together and apart, they move toward young adulthood as the book progresses. Their parents are “the oil company executives and the mining company investors … the expats from Belgium and members of the school board.” The girls have maids and chauffeurs and bodyguards; kindergarten birthday parties are “epic affairs.” When trouble comes, they expect to be taken away “in a shiny black car with squeaky plastic seats,” rescued by “the international community.” In reality, such conclusions seldom arrive in the Colombia of the 1990s and 2000s, where even (or especially) the border-flaunting, cosmopolitan elites are vulnerable in the face of kidnappings, guerrilla raids, and worse.