Ingrid Rojas Contreras was already a writer — at work on what would become her first novel, “Fruit of the Drunken Tree” — when a bicycle crash caused a brain injury that wiped her memory clean.
“Before the accident, I had actually said that my worst fear was losing my memory and not being able to write,” Rojas Contreras said. Yet, she added, “the experience of amnesia itself — from the moment that it happened and I rose from the ground from the accident — I felt a degree of happiness that I knew in my body I had never felt before.”
Amnesia is one thread running through her new memoir, “The Man Who Could Move Clouds” (Doubleday), in which Rojas Contreras explores her family history, in particular the curanderos, healers, and mystics who came before her. The family had always kept these stories private. “In writing the book I had to consider what secrets do we keep, and what is the function of the silences,” said Rojas Contreras, who was born in Colombia and came to the US as a teenager. “In South America, some of these views have to do with our indigenous histories and how we were colonized. When we keep that quiet, who that is protecting is the majority culture; we were self-erasing our own culture by keeping that silence.”
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After her memories returned, Rojas Contreras said, she found herself changed. “A lot of judgments were just kind of gone. Through amnesia, I just had completely misplaced that feeling of wanting to hide, or that feeling of shame,” she said. “It gave me a love of story that I don’t know that I had before. I think that reaching for a word, even if it feels inexact all the time, just feels incredibly beautiful and human. I wouldn’t want to spend my life doing anything else.”
Ingrid Rojas Contreras will read in person at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 21, at Porter Square Books.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.