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Flatiron Books

Where There Was Fire by John Manuel Arias (Hardcover)

Where There Was Fire by John Manuel Arias (Hardcover)

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Fiction - Literary - Family Saga


A lush and lyrical debut novel about a Costa Rican family wrestling with a deadly secret, from rising literary star John Manuel Arias

Costa Rica, 1968. When a lethal fire erupts at the American Fruit Company’s most lucrative banana plantation burning all evidence of a massive cover-up, the future of Teresa Cepeda Valverde’s family is changed forever.

Now, twenty-seven years later, Teresa and her daughter Lyra are still picking up the pieces. Lyra wants nothing to do with Teresa, but is desperate to find out what happened to her family that fateful night. Teresa, haunted by a missing husband and the bitter ghost of her mother, Amarga, is unable to reconcile the past. What unfolds is a story of a mother and daughter trying to forgive what they do not yet understand, and the mystery at the heart of one family’s rupture, steeped in machismo, jealousy, labor uprisings, and the havoc wreaked by banana plantations in Central America.

Brimming with ancestral spirits, omens, and the anthropomorphic forces of nature, John Manuel Arias weaves a brilliant tapestry of love, loss, secrets, and redemption.


John Manuel Arias is a queer, Costa Rican American poet and writer. He is a Canto Mundo fellow & alumnus of the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop. His prose and poetry have been published in PANK, The Rumpus, F(r)iction, Joyland Magazine, and Akashic Books. He has lived in Washington D.C., Brooklyn New York, and in San José, Costa Rica with his grandmother and four ghosts. Where There Was Fire is his debut novel.

"Where There Was Fire heralds the arrival of an astounding imagination and an unforgettable new voice. John Manuel Arias weaves an ambitious story that exposes the costs of corporate greed while revealing the power of personal agency and the enduring bonds of family. This is a book you’ll want to read again and again.
—Cleyvis Natera, author of Neruda on the Park

"A haunting, operatic saga of family, history and place. Where There Was Fire beautifully braids love, lust, magic and the destructive power of man to wondrous and, at times, heartbreaking effect. Arias has created an utterly original, unforgettable tale of family that will sear a place in the reader's soul.” —Xochitl Gonzalez, bestselling author of Olga Dies Dreaming

"Where There Was Fire reads as if enchanted by the spirit of an ancient and generous storyteller. How privileged we are to read of this memorable family! It is an astonishing debut novel, written in prose so atmospheric and poetic that I gasped too many times to count. Where There Was Fire quite literally took my breath away." —Kali Fajardo-Anstine, ABA winner and bestselling author of Woman of Light and Sabrina & Corina

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