Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Conquistadora: Plantation Historical Fiction

Author Esmeralda Santiago
Release Date: July 12, 2011

Even as a young girl in nineteenth-century Spain, Ana Cubillas is drawn to the exotic island of Puerto Rico by the diaries of an ancestor who traveled there with Ponce de León. And in twin brothers Ramón and Inocente—both in love with Ana—she finds a way to get there: she marries Ramón and convinces the brothers that their destiny is in the remote sugar plantation they’ve inherited on the island. But Ana’s fantasies haven’t prepared her for the unrelenting heat, the dangers of the untamed countryside, and the slave labor on which life at Hacienda Los Gemelos depends. Despite tragedy and hardship, she remains enthralled by the island’s romance, and will sacrifice nearly everything to keep hold of the land that has become her true home.

Review: Conquistadora is an arduous three-part journey that follows several generations through the hardships of running a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico. The story belongs to the main female character, Ana Cubillas, but does not neglect providing different aspects of life during this niche in history. Ana's ambition paints her as cold and sometimes cruel, but the determination she shows is remarkable, if not admirable. Conquistadora echoes the classic Gone With the Wind, and the main character reflects the strength and stubbornness of Scarlett O'Hara. Hacienda los Gemelos sings an eerily familiar tune and is just as majestic as Tara.  Its beauty and glory is, and also regretfully, built on the back of slavery. Freedom is a concept that evades all the characters in novel. Despite their gender, class, history, name, origin, marriage and wealth, each are enslaved and bound by duty, history and country.  Some chains are literal, while others are phantoms that bind each person to the Earth or each other.  In this Spanish land, during this era, and from the heart of the story, it seems the only way to achieve absolute freedom is through death.  It is foretold that Ana Cubillas will live to be an old woman, which brings her relief -- but given the definition of 'freedom' is this really good news? Conquistadora is thematically heavy, epically depicted and steeped in the traditional structure of old world story-telling generally attached to historical fiction.  Purest of the historical genre will likely enjoy the lyrical voice of Esmeralda Santiago. 
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*ARC provided by Knopf courtesy of Amazon Vine Review

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