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Colombian author Julián Delgado Lopera’s novelistic debut Fiebre Tropical is a queer coming-of-age tale that’s brought to life by their fizzy, conversational Spanglish prose. Centred on 15-year-old protagonist Francisca—who’s sweating her way through life in Miami after being unceremoniously uprooted from her home in Bogotá, Colombia—Fiebre Tropical is an irreverent, snarky, and profane in equal measure.
With a detail-oriented prose widely hailed as electric (correct), Delgado Lopera had me hooked from the off with lines describing Francisca’s introduction to Miami life: “the heat is a stubborn bitch”, “impossible variety of pendejadas para el hogar at the dollar store”, and—of their induction into the highest Hyatt Hotel churchgoing society—“only the holiest, most respectable panela people walk this category”. I felt sweaty just reading Delgado Lopera’s evocations of the Floridian calorcito, while Francisca’s family began to embrace their newfound religious chokehold like a comforting hug.
And yet, beneath the façade of acerbic funny and the intoxicating rhythm of the Spanglish, there’s a tender beating heart to the tale, one driven by Francisca herself, a queer girl coming to terms with herself while trying to navigate (distance herself from?) a family of increasingly evangelical matriarchs—a drunken grandmother, a (thinly drawn) sister with a hard-on for Jesus, and a mother whose mental health is deteriorating. All she wants are “her girlfriends back home, cigarettes, and a good black eyeliner”.
On a plot level, about a third of the book dealt with Francisca’s mother’s overwhelming obsession with having her (long) dead baby boy baptised, which did become a tiny bit repetitive and eventually felt somewhat disjointed from the rest of the book; however, Fiebre Tropical picked up pace once Francisca began willingly indoctrinating herself into that #HornyforJesus life to win over her newfound crush—Carmen, la hija del Pastor. Throw in additional flashbacks to her mother and grandmother’s pre-Miami lives in Colombia—which I liked, despite them feeling unnecessarily tangential—and Fiebre Tropical carried me happily through to the conclusion.
I’ve mentioned it already but it’s worth noting the use of Spanglish, which adds a layer of zip and verve to the narration, and—I think—serves as either a kind of comfort (for readers who inherently get what it means to lead a bilingual life in a country that’s not your own) or serves to destabilise readers who don’t, offering a peek into Francisca’s own immigrant life and general teenage disorientation. Will you understand what’s happening if you don’t read Spanish? Maybe not and maybe you just have to be OK with that.
Similarly, while it’s easy to be sucked in by the near-novelty alone of reading a book narrated in Spanglish—especially one with a voice as bold and defined as Delgado Lopera’s—Fiebre Tropical is really a novel about family, first love, and the destructive (but perversely unifying) influence of religion, as well as all the complexities which lie therein. And plot tangents aside, it’s one of the most fun novels I’ve read in a while.
Buy Febre Tropical (Portuguese): Editora Instante (Brazil)
About Julián Delgado Lopera
Julián Delgado Lopera (Bogotá, 1988) is a writer, performer, and former executive director of RADAR Productions, a queer literary non-profit. Fiebre Tropical is their third and most recent book to date.
Other Books by Julián Delgado Lopera: Quiéreme (Nomadic Press, 2017), ¡Cuéntamelo! (Aunt Lute, 2017)