The Contract of Love

| November 21, 2013


The Contract of Love

A birthday party is one of the few occasions when our father might come to visit, but you can’t count on it. “Guess what kids?” Mom says, trying to cheer my sister up as she dishes up dark brown squares of cake laced with shreds of carrot that look like little worms: “This cake contains absolutely no refined sugar. Instead, I used frozen orange juice concentrate!”

This is when we hear the sound of Latin music coming up the street like an ice cream truck. My sister’s eyes light up as she yells, “Papoo!” and runs out the door. I see our father’s Volvo pulling into the gravel driveway, his tires making the sound of popcorn popping. He’s pulling some kind of silver trailer with a shaggy grey pony in it that looks wild-eyed and is trying to escape.

“Oh Christ,” Grandpa Joe says, getting up to investigate. “What the hell’s he done now?”

* * *

Growing up with a Colombian father for whom magical realism was a way of life made ordinary reality feel like an immigrant experience for author Jose Chaves, who was born in the U.S. but—as his father would insist—“made in Colombia!”

That experience comes alive like a movie on the page in The Contract of Love, a memoir about family that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Chaves’ straightforward style turns the familiar exotic and makes the unfamiliar feel like home as he takes readers on a cultural journey from small-town, muscle-car America to the Chaves family farm in Colombia, where the cow is named Lyndon Johnson, and an emotional journey from his father’s volatile world where unrequited love is sung out loud in restaurants, to a fraternity where the most important rule is to never reveal your feelings to another guy in public.

With tenderness, humor, and hypnotic clarity, Chaves explores the landscape of love that holds us together, beyond the addictions that bind us—from the broken faith that sends a boy spiraling down, to the grace that finds the man.


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