Vanessa Blakeslee discusses Juventud with the MAR-JCC Jewish Book Review Series.
In Juventud, 30-year-old Mercedes Martinez seeks the truth about whether or not her father, Diego, a wealthy Colombian sugarcane plantation owner with narcotrafficking ties, had her first love killed fifteen years prior, in 1999. After a series of unforeseen encounters inevitably drive her back to the hacienda and the ultimate confrontation with Diego, Mercedes looks back and pieces together the events which led to her severance with her father and her homeland.
In her quest for the truth, Mercedes is conflicted about her identity and her religious faith. Born to a Jewish-American mother who abandoned her as an infant, Mercedes was baptized Catholic by her father, yet she attends Hebrew school as a girl and later observes High Holy Days with her maternal grandparents. Mercedes grows more intrigued by her Jewish heritage, which manifests itself in the search for her mother. Years after fleeing Colombia, Mercedes takes a birthright tour of Israel, where her mother (a psychologist) counsels victims of terrorist bombings and other political violence—much akin to the political violence that shattered Mercedes’ life in Colombia. Throughout, Mercedes prays for guidance in deciding whether or not to confront her father about Manuel’s death—and whether or not to forgive him.