Some books are page-turners that you can breeze through in an evening or two. Then there are others that you have to take time to savor. You know the ones – the sweeping epic novels that take place over multiple generations or across continents, the narratives filled with language so rich it might as well be poetry. These books reward patient readers with a reading experience that lingers long after the last page is turned. They’re not often bestsellers, but if you’re the kind of reader who appreciates an artfully rendered story, here are two outstanding novels that I highly recommend, both available at the Orion Township Public Library.
Urrea worked for twenty years on this novel, a story based on the life of his great-aunt Teresita, The Saint of Cabora. Teresita is the illegitimate daughter of the powerful landowner Don Tomás Urrea and an illiterate fourteen-year-old girl who works on the ranch. After she is abandoned by her mother and abused by her aunt, she is taken into the rancher's house. At the same time she is learning to become a “proper lady,” she is also studying under Huila, a healer who knows that Teresita has a great destiny to fulfill. As word of Teresita’s healing power spreads, people begin to flock to the ranch in the hopes of being cured. Such is her fame and popularity that the Mexican government begins to fear that she has become too powerful. In 2011, Urrea published Queen of America, the sequel to The Hummingbird’s Daughter.
This epic novel tells the story of three generations of strong, but troubled, Uruguayan women; Pajarita, Eva and Salomé. The first section begins as the lost infant Pajarita miraculously appears in a tree. She grows up in a small village, and eventually meets and marries an Italian immigrant and moves to the capital city of Montevideo. The second section focuses on Pajarita’s daughter, Eva. When Eva flees to Buenos Aires, the story of Peron’s Argentina intermingles with Eva’s own story. The final section is about Salomé, Eva’s daughter. This section takes place as Uruguay is experiencing political turmoil and Salomé finds herself in the middle of a revolution. If you have ever read Isabel Allende or Gabriel García Márquez, you’ll recognize both the rich magical realism and the seamless weaving of history into a love story that characterizes much of Latin American literature.