Plants Don't Drink Coffee

Unai Elorriaga

translated from the Basque by Amaia Gabantxo
Archipelago Books 2009
A book review by Danny Yee © 2009
When his mother visits his father in hospital, Tomas goes to stay with his aunt and cousins, and becomes involved with their lives. Plants Don't Drink Coffee intertwines four of their stories.

Cousin Ines is a college student who collects insects and takes Tomas searching for the blue dragonfly Orthetrum coerulescens — catching which will make him the most intelligent person in the world.

In a town where soccer rules, Uncle Simon is obsessed with rugby. He has traveled to Wales to be a linesman and now he is secretly constructing a rugby pitch on the fairway of a golf course.

A friend of Tomas' aunt tells stories about her lover, a famous architect, eventually revealing why they never married.

And cousin Mateo becomes intrigued by stories about his grandfather, a master carpenter who took part in a carpentry competition with a Welshman.

With only a few dark strands, Plants Don't Drink Coffee is a joyful and lighthearted celebration of life. Its stories involve strange and wonderful events but are never fantastic or surreal: the presentation is realistic, anchored by the concreteness of the details and the innocence of the child's perspective. The offbeat plot elements are part of the attraction, however, along with the liveliness of Elorriaga's writing.

Note: I read this to my six year old and she loved it. It was quite a nice way to introduce narrative complexity, with different points of view, temporal complexity, and some epistolary elements. A reworked version of Tomas' strand of the story was published separately as a children's story "The Ears of Grasshoppers", though that has not been translated into English.

August 2009

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%T Plants Don't Drink Coffee
%A Elorriaga, Unai
%M Basque
%F Gabantxo, Amaia
%I Archipelago Books
%D 2009 [2005]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9780977857685
%P 200pp