Booked All Week

and next week, too

So Far From God, by Ana Castillo

with 4 comments

…and so begins another LONG overdue review of a book read months ago :/

I began So Far From God after Eva of A Striped Armchair recommended it to me while discussing the Read and Resist Tucson challenge that Melissa of The Feminist Texican started early this year in protest of Arizona’s ethnic studies bans (yes, this was on the banned books list). She referred to it as something like a pleasant surprise which, happily, I found it to be as well!

So Far From God takes place in a small town in my home state, New Mexico, though the world that Sofi and her four enigmatic daughters inhabits evokes experience I was never privy to as an (atheist, Jewish) Anglo. Theirs is an existence steeped in local and ancestral lore, Catholicism, and magical realism on the most mundane of days. But it is also one that is routinely challenged by industrial development and modernist appeals to progress.

Despite Sofi’s best attempts at raising her daughters safely through adulthood, all four come to untimely, tragic ends. La Loca, so-called because her childhood death and subsequent return from the world of spirits left her mind wandering somewhere between the realms of life and death, falls prey to epileptic fits and terminal illness. Caridad, once beautiful and reckless, is ravaged by la Malogra, a wild, invisible monster. She then trains to become a curandera (healer) and falls in love with another woman on the holy march to Chimayo, where she begins to make a name for herself that travels far and wide throughout the religious community, but leaves her vulnerable. Fe, the most conventional of the sisters, wants only to work and  maintain a comfortable household with her new husband, but falls ill after being exposed to toxic chemicals at the factory that employs her. Esperanza, the oldest, achieves her dream of leaving New Mexico by becoming a reporter and flying overseas to cover conflict in the Middle East…but never returns.

None of these devastating ends comes as a surprise. Instead, they are regularly foreshadowed in the exaggerated way of upcoming soap opera events. What’s surprising is the way in which Castillo manages an easy, light-hearted tone throughout such sad happenings and keeps the reader hopeful that somehow, things aren’t all as bad as they seem. That hope finds place in the girls’ mother, Sofi, who is repeatedly devastated by the loss of her daughters, but who is not left destitute by them. In fact, she seems to swallow all their strengths as they depart her world, and she becomes a courageous, capable community organizer who works with friends, family, and strangers around her to change what isn’t right, adapting to a world in flux when necessary and holding steadfast to tried and true traditions when possible.

Castillo is a joy to read. Spanish and English flow together in a way that feels natural even to readers who know little-to-no Spanish at all. Her characters are interesting and strange but knowable, her narrative is creatively spun, and she plays carefully but easily with a number of cultures and ideas. A pleasant surprise, indeed.

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Written by Emily Jane

July 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Great review! I need, need, NEED to read this book already. Everyone who has ever mentioned it to me has enjoyed it. That, and I feel like it’s been on my TBR list for years. lol

    Thanks for adding your link to the Read and Resist Tucson database! 🙂

    Melissa

    July 12, 2012 at 7:32 am

    • Thanks Melissa! You definitely should, I think you’d really like it 🙂 and you’re very welcome! I hope to add more eventually, glad to be participating.

      Emily Jane

      July 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm

  2. Part of the story reminds me of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road – a story about Abiku. I have never understood why book banning always seem to catch the fancy of lawmakers.

    Nana Fredua-Agyeman

    July 17, 2012 at 8:16 am

  3. Yes, it reminded me of that too! It’s interesting to see the ways in which that theme or idea crops up in different times/places/cultures. And, no…I don’t understand it either 😦

    Emily Jane

    July 18, 2012 at 4:11 am


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