Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Woman of Light is a multigenerational Western historical novel from an Indigenous Chicano perspective

In her first novel, Kali Fajardo-Anstine weaves a sparkling constellation of stories around her heroine, Luz Lopez, an Indigenous Chicano teenager with a rich ancestral heritage. Luz comes of age in 1930s Denver amid family and romantic intrigues and systemic discrimination.

Just seventeen, she’s a tea-leaf reader and laundress for the city’s wealthy residents, working alongside her cousin Lizette. She and her brother Diego, a snake-charmer popular at the city’s outdoor festivals, have been raised by their aunt, Maria Josie, after their parents’ abandonment.

After Diego falls in love with an Anglo girl from a bigoted family and is forced to leave Denver, Luz misses him terribly. Her personality, which initially feels elusive, solidifies over the course of her transformational journey, in which she claims her place in a larger world that’s designed to exclude her. Though lacking formal education, Luz soaks up knowledge and has a talent for translation, or “moving words into words.”

The author creates evocative word-pictures, though the sections involving Luz tend to move slowly. Braided among them are tales involving Luz’s forebears in their homeland (the “Lost Territory”), whose lives she glimpses in visions. These include her entrepreneur grandfather, Pidre; his brave wife, Simodecea, a Mexican sharpshooter with a tragic backstory; and their daughters, Sara and Maria Josie, whose paths eventually diverge.

While scenes of Bonnie and Clyde—the familiar Depression-era outlaws—unfold in the background, Fajardo-Anstine creates a new Western lore, one involving a man’s dreams for a natural stone amphitheater, an elderly woman who “dreamt of stories in her sleep,” and a younger woman rising in power. Fajardo’s expansive vision of the West and its diverse, multilingual peoples is well worth experiencing, since it’s too rarely seen in fiction. Her novel is a triumphant reshaping of the Western narrative.

Woman of Light was published by One World, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in 2022. I reviewed it for August's Historical Novels Review. And doesn't it have a beautiful cover?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:42 PM

    After reading the review of this book, I thought it would be interesting for me to read it. The plot seemed to me very multifaceted and deep, since the very theme of a person growing up and finding his place in this world is already quite a significant topic for me, and in combination with other storylines, it becomes even more diverse. I am interested to know how a person, by the will of fate, combines two cultures and becomes a person of a unique third culture. And all this happens in the process of growing up.