My Year of Living Backwards – Red Queen to White Queen


Over the next year, on Mondays and Thursdays, I will introduce consecutive passages from my new novel, Red Queen to White Queen.

The book explores how a Colombian matriarch came to exert a lifelong dominance over her family, until a newcomer threatens her reign.

At the end of each chapter, you will find a recipe from the book (see below).


Cast of Characters:

Magdalena (Magda): In her 90s when the book begins, Magda is the most powerful figure in her family. Flashbacks explore the life that made her who she is.
Rosalba: Magda’s daughter, who has devoted her life to the care of her mother.
Immaculata (Imma): Magda’s lifelong servant
Dante: Magda’s husband
Seňora Moreno: Family friend of long standing
And more to come.

In Bogotá, 3 p.m. was the “hour of chocolate,” the city’s social hour. It was then, on the first Tuesday of every month, that Magda and Rosalba opened their home to visitors.

Seňora Moreno was given the place of honour in the red plush chair beside the player piano. She accepted the privilege: not because it was her right, but because it afforded the best view. Beside the fireplace sat Magda, a decrepit monarch in whom flashes of the old, imperious will were still felt often enough to be dangerous.

Visitors were careful to sit far away from that wheelchair. It sometimes happened, however, that a new guest took her seat beside the old woman. Magda would receive the sweetmeats from the visitor’s hand and bob her head to the woman’s soothing coos. Then, from her wrecked body, a sudden immense strength: a hand would snake out and grip the woman’s wrist in a painful and implacable grip, the same snaking grip of the monkeys that prowled the hot country. The weak, watery eyes would clear, boring straight into the soul of the unsuspecting victim.

The question was different for each visitor: the one thing each woman hoped would never be revealed to her peers.

“Tell me, does your husband find your bed warm at night?”.

This was said to the woman who suffered from an incurable weakness in the nether areas and could not give her husband another child, nor the type of release to which he was entitled.

Today, Magda was seated beside the wife of the city’s newest judge, lately arrived from Cali. As Seňora Moreno accepted her cup of chocolate from Rosalba’s hands, the old woman’s words floated across the room. “Your youngest grandchild: send him round to me. I need a boy to run my errands. I’ll tip him well.”

Fierce in her determination to draw a line between the classes, Magda would not have asked another woman to dispatch her grandchild like a servant. Through connections in Cali, Seňora Moreno knew the truth about this particular child, born of a secret liaison between a pampered son and a young maid. The maid had been paid handsomely, with instructions to leave the child behind. But how did the wheelchair-bound Magda know? Rosalba, certainly, would never have discovered such a thing.

Seňora Moreno wondered if Magda knew what was said when the woman gathered in each other’s houses at the hour of chocolate: that Magda was herself the product of such a liaison. It was rumoured, too, that Magda had ceased to sleep with her own husband after her son was born. Seňora Moreno suspected it delighted the old woman to reproach these women with the very sins of which she herself stood accused.

The women on the edges of the circle turned away, unwilling to watch the newcomer squirm. The human need to gossip paled and shriveled in this room. Each had passed through her own test of fire and shuddered at the memory of it. For Rosalba’s sake, only for Rosalba’s sake, were they willing to scuttle past the old dragon to the far edge of the circle, where they sat clutching their delicate, rose-tinted cups in a fragile illusion of safety.

Magda held the woman’s wrist a moment or two longer than necessary, then dropped it, returning to the pose of the fragile old woman imprisoned in her wheelchair. Rosalba herself thought nothing of the interaction. Through the mutual consent of those around her, no tales of women’s troubles or liaisons between man and maid were allowed to disturb her innocence. Dante had insisted that his daughter remain unsullied from any knowledge of the world. Magda had concurred: great sinners are amused at the thought of being served by the pure.

Rosalba’s Chocolate Con Queso: Common fare in every home, this hot chocolate was made using the olleta y molinillo–pitcher and stick. The milk was set on the fire in the high, copper olleta, into which were dropped pressed medallions of sugar and dried chocolate. Twirling the wooden molinillo between her palms, the cook whipped the mixture to a high froth. Because it took so long, this was usually the maid’s job. But Rosalba would let no one, not even the trusted Immaculata, prepare her chocolate.

To produce the foam so prized by its devotees, Bogotá’s chocolate was twice boiled: after the first boil the olleta was removed from the fire momentarily and the chocolate left to settle. It was then brought back to a boil and poured into cups, to which were added small nuggets of white cheese. These, when melted, were scooped up with a spoon. Children vied to see who could produce the longest string of melted cheese.
Ingredients for the Modern Kitchen

  • A bar of good, dark Belgian chocolate, approximately 4 large squares per cup.
  • Click here for the entire recipe.

Join author Susan Young de Biagi on Monday, February 29th, as Chapter 1 continues. All text is protected under copyright to Susan Young de Biagi. Images are in the public domain.

imageSusan Young de Biagi is a regular contributor to prdn.


“As a trained historian, my twin passions are writing and teaching. In addition to Cibou – my first novel – I have written or co-written three books of non-fiction, and authored a number of digital, educational products.”

This entry was posted in Arts & Culture, BC, Education, Environment, Food, Fun, Health, History, Lifestyle, Lifestyle & Health, Local, Things to Do, World and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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