Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
Deborah Ellis’s second Cocalero Novel, Sacred Leaf, picks up from where I Am a Taxi left off. There was much still to be resolved at the conclusion of I Am a Taxi. Although Diego had escaped the clutches of the Bolivian drug traffickers, he was still jungle-bound, far from his parents. At the start of the sequel, Diego has been living with the Ricardo family for a week, having staggered upon their hut when fleeing the drug traffickers. The Ricardo family are coca farmers who harvest the plant to sell in markets.
For centuries the coca leaf has been considered sacred in Bolivia. Ellis argues that it is the demand of North Americans that has created the associated cocaine trade derived from coca leaves. In response to the war against drugs, with the backing of the American government, Bolivian authorities are destroying coca plantations.
When soldiers confiscate the Ricardo family’s harvest, Diego and the family join protestors and form a blockade, cutting off Bolivia’s roadways.
There are certainly shades of John Steinbeck about the sympathetic way that Ellis portrays her peasant farmers and their efforts to present a united voice in the face of authorities. With such political underpinnings, it is unlikely that Sacred Leaf will generate as much interest among young readers as did I Am a Taxi. Those with an interest in reading another chapter of Diego’s life, however, will enjoy another engaging, and often powerful, read. Recommended.