Hacienda: A Memoir

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Lisa St. Aubin de Terán was a romantic 16-year-old when she married Don Jaime, a South American aristocrat 20 years her senior. Quickly seduced by tales of his ancestral home, she left England for his family's vast sugarcane and avocado plantation, deep in the Venezuelan Andes. There the fantasy life she had imagined met with an almost unbelievable reality—the plantation was in shambles, and her dashing husband turned out to be an international fugitive, suffering from hereditary madness. The Hacienda tells the ...
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Overview

Lisa St. Aubin de Terán was a romantic 16-year-old when she married Don Jaime, a South American aristocrat 20 years her senior. Quickly seduced by tales of his ancestral home, she left England for his family's vast sugarcane and avocado plantation, deep in the Venezuelan Andes. There the fantasy life she had imagined met with an almost unbelievable reality—the plantation was in shambles, and her dashing husband turned out to be an international fugitive, suffering from hereditary madness. The Hacienda tells the sometimes hilarious, sometimes harrowing story of how Lisa courageously restored the plantation, bore her first child, and, perhaps hardest of all, won the respect of la gente.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
A haunting—and often harrowing—memoir about the seven years she spent on a sugar plantation deep in the Venezuelan Andes.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Prize-winning British novelist St. Aubin de Terán reminisces about her marriage to Don Jaime de Terán. After her wedding to the Venezuelan aristocrat, which took place in the late 1960s when she was just 16 and he was 20 years older, the author drifted around Europe with him for two years before they returned to La Hacienda, her husband's sugarcane and avocado plantation in the Andes wilderness. Although she details how she came to terms with her husband's obvious madness and managed to make a life for herself despite the impoverished condition of the plantation, there are so many gaps in the narrative that it is frequently difficult to follow. Shortly after their arrival home, the author's husband deserted her, but she managed to restore the plantation and deliver rudimentary health care to the workers there. When her husband returned, his episodes of madness became dangerous, and in 1979 the author escaped to England with their daughter, Iseult, who had been born in the Andes in 1973.
The New York Times
A haunting—and often harrowing—memoir about the seven years she spent on a sugar plantation deep in the Venezuelan Andes.
Vivian Gornick
The descriptions are marvelous....[They] are the strength of the book. Clear, simple, direct, they endow the prose with texture and character....This memoir comes, finally, neither to poetry, anthropology, or self-definition. It is merely an old-fashioned tale of pluck—told entirely in the terms of external adventure. And I found it thoroughly enjoyable. What it does deliver on is the old-fashioned pleasure of narrative....
The Women's Review of Books
Michael Upchurch
A wryly absurdist nonchalance now colors St. Aubin de Terán's prose, along with a more buoyant lyrical flair. In The Hacienda, both are on seductive display....a transfixing performance.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
The mesmerizing tale of a young Englishwoman's strange life in the world of a remote South American sugar plantation during the early 1970s. When St. Aubin de Terán was a mere schoolgirl of 16, she met a political exile from Venezuela, Jaime de Terán, a man in his late 30s. He pursued her doggedly and, she agreed to marry him when she was 17. They spent the next three years traveling around Europe with some of his fellow exiles (but without much money). Jaime was an odd character, given to extended bouts of strange behavior, but the ever-flexible teenager made nothing of it. When an amnesty made it possible for him to return home to the family estate—a sugar cane plantation the Andes—he and his child-bride moved there. St. Aubin de Terán tells of her years (1971-79) on the feudal Terán estate with a small and vulnerable daughter, a fiercely loyal pet buzzard, and a homicidally insane husband. He is the last scion of an ancient (and inbred) aristocratic clan. Managment of the estate fell largely on her inexperienced shoulders. The many families who live in near-servitude on the plantation are impoverished and suffer from terrible diseases in addition to all manner of self-inflicted misfortune. Indeed, the author has enough misfortunes of her own, but they don't get the better of her. This remarkable book is striking for its cannily articulate, vivid, yet always understated prose style. It grips the reader from beginning to end. St. Aubin de Terán writes with the dispassionate eye of a cultural anthropologist and the story-telling craftsmanship of the novelist she is (Nocturne, 1993, etc.). One only wishes for more photos than the 19 shesupplies. There is no picture of the buzzard, for example, one of the tale's most interesting figures. A memoir of conspicuously powerful narrative force, never sentimental or self-indulgent.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781860492778
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group Limited
  • Publication date: 8/28/1997
  • Pages: 352

Read an Excerpt

The Hacienda


By Lisa St. Audin de Teran

Back Bay Books

Copyright © 1999 Lisa St. Audin de Teran
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-81688-4


Chapter One

OVER AND OVER again before I ever went there, I heard the name 'La Hacienda'. It was a place where sugar-cane grew in unimaginable abundance and avocado pears that dwarfed all others. It was a place without any clear dimensions: a frontierless tract of land steeped in history. When I asked where it was, I was always told it was in the Andes, never anywhere specific, just 'en los Andes', as though this mythical hacienda were the heart, the living core of a great mountain range. When I asked how big it was, the better to visualise it, the answer was that it stretched for as far as the eye could see and then further. When I asked who lived there, I was told first of the past; it was where the Terans used to live, and then of the present: it was the domain of la gente, the people. Little by little, I discovered that 'the people' in question were tithed peasants of the estate and that they too had lived there for centuries.

And I learnt that the lost man I had married in London was the last of a dynasty of Terans whose lands dated back to the Capitan Pobladores: the first settlers from Spain who arrived in Venezuela via Santo Domingo on the second voyage of Christopher Columbus. Everything else I was told thereafter was woven in a tapestry of myth and history. Characters from the past were discussed and criticised with the same familiarity as the cousins who had just left the breakfast table Time, it seemed, had warped on the hacienda and spun its web over all its sons and daughters. It spun its web over me.

Long before I went there, my imagination was fireed by the idea of its terrestrial paradise. My husband spoke verry little, and when he did it was mostly of the past, not the immediate past but the heyday of the Terans when they peoipled the Andes, trailing their military honours across their plamtations. It was as though through sheer nostalgia he could forrce himself back generations to a time when life had a ssense of purpose and his family were worshipped like gods.

My mother came from the Channel Islands, my fathler from South America. By my first birthday their relationslhip had ended and a sour silence hung over it. I rarely saw may father. I lived with my three half-sisters and our mother, wvho was borne down by whatever irreversible trauma the lastt of her four marriages had brought her. Secretly, as I grew up in south London, wrapped in the alienation of being half-foreign, introverted and unnaturally shy, I longed to be somewhere where I felt I belonged: to not be different. It becalme my ambition to go to the Andes, to live there off unspeakaably hot chilli peppers and tropical fruits.

Until the age of ten, I proposed to become a doctor and to place my services at the disposal of the former Replublic of Gran Colombia. After a complicated operation for perritonitis and a subsequent treatment, which involved being lifted in and out of salt baths for several weeks with some of the usually hidden workings of my insides visible as rubber tubess oozed noxious waste round them, I discovered that I was far too squeamish to study medicine. I chose, from my hospital bed, to be an archaeologist instead. During the year that it took me to recover from this bout, l read all I could about South American history the better to prepare myself for eventual field trips to the Andes.

In my early teens, my father sometimes took me on trips to America, Canada and once, when I was sixteen, to the Caribbean and to Georgetown, Guyana where my paternal grandmother lived. He complained that my shyness often crossed the border into rudeness with my failure to acknowledge his fellow diplomats and academics when they chanced to recognise me in London.

When I first met Don Jaime Teran on an insalubrious street in south London, it was a mixture of my father's admonitions and my own yearning for the Andes that made me reply to Don Jaime's abrupt introduction of 'South America' with my own 'Yes.' The next eight months of our courtship rarely strayed into the realm of words. With the help of a dictionary, he asked me, repeatedly and loudly, to marry him. He followed me to school and back, waiting outside on a park bench while I prepared for my Cambridge University entrance exams. He proposed marriage to me at bus stops and in supermarket queues. He became, together with his two comrades Otto and Elias, accepted by my family and friends. Although his proposals embarrassed me, he never really pestered or bothered me, he just followed me: an exotic, handsome shadow wherever I went. He carried an aura of sadness around with him which I found intriguing. His friends deferred to him and pampered him as though he were a rare tropical plant

I became enmeshed in this situation without ever questioning it. My curiosity was reserved for books. I read incessantly. The English are notorious for their political apathy and I was no exception. The fact that Jaime and his friends were political exiles and discussed politics in heated debates scarcely penetrated the poetry I was consuming or the Latin or the Latin American geography. I had decided to be a poet. I made up my mind at the age of twelve. I knew that poets were penniless, so I decided to earn my living by archaeology. I had tunnel vision. Whenever I gave my Venezuelan guard the slip, I spent my hours at the National Gallery. It wasn't easy to get away from Jaime, and I didn't often try.

He said he would die if I didn't marry him. He said it was my destiny. I was sixteen and I didn't know then that it was an old cliche, as though, somewhere, there is a little latino lexicon of courtship which is learnt by heart in adolescence and then regurgitated to girl after girl.

After eight months, with the help of an interpreter, I married Jaime at the Lambeth Registry Office. He hadn't brought a wedding ring, so my mother, Joanna, gave me one of hers. After the wedding, Jaime and I went to see Zabriskie Point at the cinema. My mother, although she was enchanted by Jaime and his chivalric ways, had tried to dissuade me from marrying on general principle: her ample experience of marriage had not been good. I was stubborn. I had decided to do it in a public-spirited way: it seemed to mean a lot to him and it didn't mean much to me. Then I continued to prepare for my exams while the conclave of Venezuelans plotted to decamp to Italy.

Most of the Venezuelans I met in London had been to the hacienda and spoke of it as pilgrims do of a shrine. All fruits and flowers were paltry by comparison to its production. No orange tasted as sweet or peeled as easily as the Californian grafts back there. No mango, be it from Fortnum & Mason or Brixton market was ever half as good. Even birds, it seemed, flew less gracefully over English skies than the bluebirds that circled the hacienda. It was galling to live in a constant state of negative comparison, surrounded by the second rate. I refused to accept the innate superiority of all things Andean, but I wanted to see for myself this garden of Eden.

Sometimes, there would be as many as twenty Venezuelans staying at my mother's suburban flat. Sometimes it would just be Jaime and me. From the beginning, and for many months, Otto disliked me intensely. He was irked by my ignorance, by my passivity and my Englishness. He was a man on the run for his life; he had been one of the leaders of a guerrilla war in Latin America, then, in his uneasy exile, he conducted another guerrilla war with me. For a year after I mastered Spanish, I kept my counsel and feigned not to understand. Had I read and daydreamed a lithe less intensely, I would have learnt far more than the nuggets I gleaned from eavesdropping occasionally between tomes.

Gradually I pieced together a scenario of clandestinity, of false documents and myriad illegalities. What emerged, though, was never more than that to me: a scenario. It was a fantasy revealed and sanded down by daily contact into something infinitely duller than the books I read. While Otto nagged me constantly to be less conspicuous, to abandon the Edwardian fancy dress so dear to my heart, to hide and fear as they did in their precarious position, I blundered on without an ounce of courage, immunised to danger by being inanely unaware.

During the next two years I drifted in the wake of the Venezuelan runaways between Paris, Bologna and Milan. I learnt next to nothing about Venezuela beyond the lore and legend of the Andes, the Terans and the hacienda. Four hundred years of inbreeding had rendered the family a full crop of eccentricities which were listed and recounted like touchstones for the comfort of its sons. Otto and Jaime were distantly related, as were most of the other exiled Andeans we met along the way. Only Elias was untouched by the many taints of the clan, and he too was amused by its carrying on. The Terans died young, struck down where they stood by congenital heart disease. One lived in total darkness; another lived on his balcony; another was enamoured of a dog called Jacqueline; another drove her car in reverse until the engine burnt out and then bought another and did it again; one was a miser, another a sadist; one was a tramp, another was catatonic; there were a nymphomaniac, an alchemist, and one had been building an aeroplane in his back yard for twenty years out of powered milk tins. Everyone spoke of the Andes with affection, indulgence and pride. I didn't think that what they said was true; they were stories. On the day of my marriage, when Jaime confessed to me that he was a bank robber and a wanted man, I didn't really believe him either. I found his confession vaguely reassuring. At last we had something in common: he was a fantasist and so was I.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Hacienda by Lisa St. Audin de Teran Copyright © 1999 by Lisa St. Audin de Teran . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. It is easy to see Lisa's maturity grow as the book gains momentum. You can almost feel it in the writing. Watching her come of age as she did, did you find yourself envying her the adventure? Or pitying her the dire circumstances?

2. Lisa clearly thrives on this primitive landscape. At first bewildered by her situation, she rose to the occasion as few would or could. Did you see her courage come gradually, or did you feel there was a definite turning point? If so, what was it?

3. During the first few months when her dreams are shattered and she realized she had no bed, no food, and barely a husband, why didn't she run away? Was her loyalty to her husband, or her mother?

4. On the hacienda, "losing face" was considered criminal among la gente -- their pride was of paramount importance. Lisa seems to arrive on the hacienda with some measure of her own pride. How does she exercise it, and, in this regard, do you think she had more in common with la gente than anyone would have suspected?

5. Lisa's relationship with her mother would probably be described as healthy. What role does her mother play, voluntarily or not, in her daughters' extraordinary circumstance?

6. The plumbing, transportation, medical supplies, standard of living -- all of these things took the reader a step back in time. What things did Lisa choose to cling to from her past. What did she connect with to get her through?

7. When the stranger (p.315) addresses her with the informal "thou" used only for animals, Lisa was deeply offended. What did this illustrate about her self-image?

8. We hear very little of her father. Is this a mission of importance?

9. Except for the somewhat passionate remembrance of fruit Lisa shares with the local vet, she never recollects missing things European. The people, the dress, the weather, the food, the landscape ... all were very different and surely would have been cause for home sickness. Again, what do you make of these omissions?

10. Lisa's pregnancy, the death of Capino, her decision to start dispensing medicine ... all of these things contributed to the trust between her and la gente that she needed to survive. What or who else contributes?

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