Source: DRC via NetGalley (Random House Publishing Group – Random House, One World) in return for an honest review
Pub. Date: June 7, 2022
Why did I choose to read this book?
Over the past couple of years I have felt myself gravitating towards indigenous peoples’ stories, stories that span generations and history, stories that might be wiped from our memories if we don’t write and read them. Stories like The Seed Keeper, The Only Good Indians, or The Four Winds are perfect examples of this. I want to hear history from the people who were silenced. I want stories that show me what was really happening, or what the real consequences were, after significant events in American history.
So the multigenerational western saga that is promised here told through the eyes of Indigenous Chicano women with a bit of mysticism sprinkled in grabbed me by the eyeballs and demanded to be read.
What is this book about?
I finished this book and I don’t think I could tell you what it was about. It was a mish-mashed story that spanned four generations, set in the late-1800s/early-1900s, mostly in Colorado. The main character is Luz, and she is a seer – a once in a generation secret/story keeper who can also see the future if they have the right medium (Luz’s is tea leaves or coffee grounds, but she gets visions if the emotions or connections in other locations or items is strong enough). The book shows us where Luz came from, her lineage, and the trauma that has been handed down to her through her parents and their forbears. Overall the story tries to give you a view of what it was like to be Chicano in the American West at that time, and spoiler alert: it wasn’t very good or safe. The KKK even makes a few appearances.
What is notable about the story?
I have read books from the Carribean perspective (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, etc), from the African diasporan perspective, and the Native American perspective, among others, but this was the first book I had read that not only brought a story from a Chicano perspective, but a historical framing as well. The themes were the same as what you would expect from the institutional and aggressive racism that runs rampant in this country, but the approach seemed a little bit different. The racism wasn’t presented in all major events, it ran alongside the story, like it was embedded in it. It was a normal part of the characters’ everyday life, and in that way it made its effects appear even more threatening, more stark. Were there cross burnings and beatings and lynchings? Sure, but that wasn’t all of it, and I appreciated how Fajardo-Anstine helped the reader feel how racism is just…always there.
It’s an important way of telling this age-old story, especially when in the present day our government seems to have such a non-empathetic view toward any black and brown immigrants, even those who are seeking asylum. This is rooted deep in our country’s history, in our country’s expansion west, and in how we attempt to reinforce our physical and ideological borders on surrounding countries, especially those to the south.
Was anything not so great?
For a book set in my favorite region of the country exploring a group of people I haven’t read that much about (fiction or non-fiction) with this much trauma and racism, I expected to have stronger emotions or to feel more connected to some of the characters. I read the story to the end, so it wasn’t boring, but in the craft sense this was definitely plot-driven and not character-driven. The plot and setting of the story happened to the characters, they didn’t feel like they had much agency at all. And while I understand that this is a plot device, meant to make you feel the same way the characters would have in their own time, here it left me feeling like the entire story had just been swept away in a strong breeze. It was good, but it wasn’t memorable. The ending didn’t feel satisfying or unsatisfying, it just ended where it ended and there wasn’t more to read. I was actually surprised enough to say, “oh…that’s it?” when my Kindle suddenly reached the acknowledgements.
My only other gripe was how the chapters bounced around from recent past to far past to present to past. This made the first half of the book a struggle to read, because it switched so often there were too many people to keep track of, and if you weren’t paying careful attention to the chapter headings with the years, you might think you were reading about something happening in the 1930s but really this was the MC’s great grandmother in the 1880s or something. I was about 10% in before I realized that the story was even jumping around, and I had to go back and pay better attention. There may have been a more organized way of flipping between generations to make the pattern more predictable, but this book did not attempt anything of the sort. I don’t mind back and forth, but this particular story gave me some wicked whiplash.
What’s the verdict?
3 stars on Goodreads and I’ll bill this one as a “get it from the library, but don’t rush” kind of recommendation. It’s an interesting story and this topic is a blind spot for many, so you should read it if you’re looking for something to pick up that’s new in order to broaden your intellectual horizons. As a fiction novel you’re expecting to read for entertainment, it’s a good enough choice with which to fill the time.
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