City News

Salem Reads 2024 invites readers to talk death, family and Ecuador

For her descendants, Orquídea Divina’s death meant an excavation of family secrets and supernatural encounters, revealed over the course of a journey to Ecuador.

For Salem, librarians are hoping it can kick start conversations about dying, magical realism, Ecuadorian history — with some flower crafts along the way.

“The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina,” a 2021 novel by Zoraida Córdova, is this year’s Salem Reads book, the center of a month-long program held annually in February.

The Salem Public Library and Salem Public Library Foundation encourage Salemites to read and discuss one book, putting on lectures, group discussions, an art show and other events that tie into the book’s themes.

“Death and family are kind of at the root of this whole story,” said Sonja Somerville, the library’s programming and outreach supervisor. 

The story begins when a family’s dying matriarch summons her relatives to her death to receive their inheritance — not riches or objects, but a more supernatural bequest, Somerville said.

The gifts benefit her descendants, but when the family comes under attack, they travel to Ecuador to uncover the truth of their matriarch’s life.

It’s a serious book covering heavy topics, and Somerville said the library tries to mix fun and more serious events, alongside programs for different ages and interests. All are free and open to the public.

The lineup begins Thursday evening with a showing of “Oil & Water,” a documentary about two young men trying to conserve Indigenous cultures and the environment in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

The movie screens from 6-7:30 p.m. in the library’s Loucks Auditorium.

Artwork inspired by the 2024 Salem Reads book, “The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina,” is on display at the Salem Public Library. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Other events in February include a ribbon roses craft drawing on the novel’s connections to the natural world, a lecture about magical realism from a Willamette University professor, and a talk on Ecuadorian history.

The library is also putting on two “death cafes,” — one in English and one in Spanish — where participants can “talk about death, learn about life.” 

Death cafes are a worldwide grassroots movement seeking to break taboos around conversations about dying and end-of-life, and one meets regularly in Salem. The Salem Reads ones are facilitated by library workers.

“We just want people to come and get a little taste of what those conversations are like,” Somerville said.

One planned event, a presentation of childhood secrets submitted by library patrons, was canceled because not enough people submitted secrets.

A full listing of Salem Reads events is available online.

The book is chosen after a committee selects finalists, and the public votes between them. Somerville said organizers seek out books that are available in paperback and have been published in both English and Spanish so more Salemites can participate. They also look for something that’s well-known enough people will want to read it, and has broad appeal.

The library foundation buys dozens of copies of the book so they’re readily available to check out all month.

Authors are always invited to Salem for a presentation, but as they’ve selected more well-known books over the years, that’s been harder to secure. Somerville said that was the case this year, as well as last, when former Daily Show host Trevor Noah didn’t make the trip out to discuss his autobiography “Born A Crime.”

“Somehow he wasn’t like, ‘I have always wanted to come to Salem for very little money,’” she said.

Salem Reads also has a companion art exhibit in collaboration with the Salem Art Association on display at the library. The display includes work from five local Indigenous and Latino artists inspired by the book, with pieces including colleges that feature family photos and paintings themed around birth and inheritance.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.