Thursday, June 23, 2011

Conquistadora-Esmeralda Santiago

Esmeralda Santiago
Knopf, Jul 12 2011, $27.50
ISBN: 9780307268327

In Spain, Ana Cubillas dreams of living in Puerto Rico after reading the diaries of her sixteenth century ancestor who accompanied de Leon in the New World. Ana finds a means to cross the Atlantic when she meets twins Ramón and Inocente who inherit jointly a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico. The brothers fall in love with her, but she marries Ramon in 1844. Soon afterward, she persuades the siblings the good life is at their Hacienda Los Gemelos plantation.

However, the island is not the tropical paradise of her dreams. As the American ideological divide heats up and threatens to boil into the Caribbean, she finds the oppressive heat unbearable and the feral land just outside the hacienda dangerously unwelcoming. Finally Ana is disturbed by the slave labor employed on her Hacienda. Still a romantic at heart, she sacrifices everything for her first and only love Hacienda Los Gemelos.

The underlying theme of this super mainstream story is similar to Esmeralda Santiago’s autobiography When I Was Puerto Rican, which focused on having a foot on the island and one in NYC; this enjoyable tale likewise has a foot in real Puerto Rico and whimsically in Ana’s romanticized Puerto Rico. Well written and very insightful, readers will relish this engaging mid ninetieth century look at Puerto Rico (and initially Spain).

Harriet Klausner

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