Having escaped crumbling, socialist Venezuela, Yola Palacios and her family are settling into their new under-the-radar life in Trinidad.
But when the formidable* Aunt Celia dies, the Palacios discover that she’s been keeping one hell of a secret. She’s seriously in debt to a local criminal called Ugly, a debt that is now theirs to repay.
He might dress like David Bowie, but Ugly’s business style is pure Pablo Escobar. What he says, the Palacios must do, otherwise: big trouble.
Ugly’s right-hand man Román is tasked with keeping an eye on the family but Yola can barely keep her eyes off him. Forbidden fruit is the original aphrodisiac, and when Yola and Román fall in lust, even bigger trouble is on the horizon… Told with raw, acid humour, One Year of Ugly is a story of family, first love and finding home. A blisteringly fresh take on the migrant experience, set in a beautiful corner of the Caribbean, and a poignant reminder that no matter what form of ugly crosses your path, there’s always a way to laugh through it.
One Year Of Ugly was an absolute joy to read. I instantly fell in with Mackenzie’s characters, with her plot, and found myself completely wrapped up in the exploits of the Palacio family.
The whole premise of naughty, dead Aunt Celia owing island gangster, Ugly a huge fortune, her family forced to pay her dues gave Mackenzie licence to send them and us on an often hilarious and sometimes serious rollercoaster ride.
It was the way in which the various members of the Palacio clan responded that intrigued and fascinated. Our main protagonist, Yola was just brilliant, intelligent, feisty, full of colour and not averse to falling for the handsome good lucks and charms of Ugly’s henchman, Roman. Their relationship may not have been Mills and Boon, but it had all the heat and tension, the will they or won’t they teaser that you want from any steamy love story and it definitely fizzed and readiated from the pages.
Yet, Yola was also a brilliant observationalist, as she noted the reactions of her family members as group after group of illegal immigrants swamped their doorsteps. And what a bunch they were, from rich hoteliers, to strippers and simple folk looking for an escape from a Venezuela that teetered on the economic edge.
All left a marked impression especially on the brilliant chain smoking Aunt Milagros, a woman who appeared to lose her mind quite hilariously, yet hid a secret that will make you laugh out loud and cheer loudly in amazement and sheer joy.
As the family became more entrenched, as Ugly’s tack changed, you wondered just where Mackenzie would take us next and oh boy, when we did get there it was brilliant. At the same time, you felt an undercurrent of danger building, that something was about to happen, that there must be some way the Palacio’s would have to extricate themselves from Ugly’s grasp. It came out of the blue, fast and furious, the tension palpable as you sat with fingers crossed, Mackenzie’s imagery just superb as engines roared, bullets flew before an unnatural calm as Yola, her family and us waited for answers. The outcomes were not necessarily what you expected, but then the whole of the novel was full of the unexpected, things and people never quite as they appeared to be.
For all its humour and fun, there was always a hint of the serious behind Mackenzie’s writing, the plight of Venezuela and its citizens very much at the heart of the novel. A corrupt president hellbent on persecuting its citizens, forcing them to flee, illegal immigrants who lived under the radar in constant fear of discovery, at the mercy of traffickers and gangsters.
What Mackenzie did in a very clever way, was to turn that seriousness into a novel full of fun, colour with a cast of characters that from the very first page will mesmerise and bewitch you. One Year Of Ugly was just brilliant, I absolutely loved it!
I would like to thank The Borough Press for a copy of One Year Of Ugly to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Caroline Mackenzie is a freelance translator living in Trinidad with her husband and son. A national scholar, she studied in the UK on an Open Scholarship for four years to qualify as a specialist translator before returning to her native Trinidad, where she began writing more extensively. Her short fiction has appeared in literary publications around the world, and in 2017 she was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. In 2018 she was
named the Short Fiction winner of the Small Axe Literary Competition. One Year of Ugly is her first novel, and the TV rights have already been snapped up by Netflix.