For Ingrid Rojas Contreras, magic runs in the family. Raised amid the political violence of 1980s and '90s Colombia, in a house bustling with her mother's fortune-telling clients, she was a hard child to surprise. Her maternal grandfather, Nono, was a renowned curandero, a community healer gifted with what the family called "the secrets" the power to talk to the dead, tell the future, treat the sick, and move the clouds. And as the first woman to inherit "the secrets," Rojas Contreras' mother was just as powerful. Mami delighted in her ability to appear in two places at once, and she could cast out even the most persistent spirits with nothing more than a glass of water. This legacy had always felt like it belonged to her mother and grandfather, until, while living in the U.S. in her twenties, Rojas Contreras suffered a head injury that left her with amnesia. As she regained partial memory, her family was excited to tell her that this had happened before: Decades ago Mami had taken a fall that left her with amnesia, too. And when she recovered, she had gained access to "the secrets."
Striking ... What adds even more substance to this personal story is that the book radiates out into such issues as the collision between the Old World and the New, pitting Indigenous spirituality against institutionalized religion, and their differing approaches to medicine ... Readers expecting a conventional memoir will either be unconvinced by Rojas Contreras’ circular storytelling and the forthright presentation of the fantastical as fact, or they’ll find it appealing because such an unusual story demands a distinctive narrative approach ... Beautifully written and layered, an empowering act of recovery and self-discovery.
To complete The Man Who Could Move Clouds...Rojas Contreras relies...on oral history, ultimately embracing its messy, unverifiable and disjointed nature ... These are the kinds of stories that would’ve had Gabriel García Márquez rubbing his hands together ... Sections in the memoir that expand beyond the personal into discussions of colonialism and Colombian history can feel thin. Some reflections are vague, airy, even bordering on cringe ... Others get simple facts wrong ... For a book that reveals such deep collective truths, these are merely quibbles ... Rojas Contreras has forced into the public record a collective identity of clairvoyants and spiritualists...that she has pieced together from the disintegrating fragments of her own familial past. In the process, she has written a spellbinding and genre-defying ancestral history.
With Latin flavor infusing her phrasing and magic in her heritage, Rojas Contreras recalls her childhood in the conflicted, politically scarred homeland of Colombia ... veers from chronology to speculation, from the realities of constant political upheaval to poignant candle-lit moments with Mami in the attic, listening to her mother’s sage advice about how to guide people to solutions by weaving complex, magical fables for them to follow. Her path, one senses, is still multilayered ... Those who read this book for the conceptions and comforts hidden beyond bare facts will find themselves soaring into imagination with Rojas Contreras and hoping for further visualizations from this gifted artist.