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By Limon, Graciela
Houston, Texas, Arte Publico Press, 1994
ISBN: 1-55885-116-X 199 pages

Bob Corbett
December 2015

Note about these comments. I write my comments on each book I read for MYSELF. My memory isn’t what I would wish, and I often forget that I’ve read a book and I find myself re-reading books I’d already read. This happened again with the book I comment on below. After I wrote the remarks below I discovered that I had read the book back in 2008 and posted comments on it to this, my book review page. Since I have the two different reviews from two different reads and two different times separated by 7 years, I decided just to go ahead and post my remarks below, my second take on this novel.

I’m happier with this set of comments (with absolutely no memory that I had EVER read this books before) since I think my current comments are a bit more detailed and useful.

My earlier comments may be found at:

The Memories of Ana Calderon is an extremely powerful novel of a woman who faces enormous difficulties in life, but who perseveres and makes herself a respected and well-off person, but whose life is a long journey to full self-acceptance and self-understanding.

The novel opens in 1932 in a small village in southern Mexico. The Calderon family has 7 children. Their mother dies in childbirth and Rodolfo, her father, decides they have to head north for better work opportunities. They first try farm labor but that’s a dead end. Finally, they escape a farm labor camp where their debt for food is daily more than they earn in the fields.

Fortunately a very kind America fellow takes them under his wing and aids them to get into the U.S. with proper papers and all, and all within a few minutes at the border.

After studying their baptismal certificates, the American guard accepts them in kindness and prescience at to what will come in the future:

“Okay, you’re all lucky we’re still doing it this way. Soon crossing with get tough, you know. Anyway, the registration fee for each one of them will be six bits. Here, take these forms over to the other room. Fill them out. We need a picture of the father and each kid. That’ll cost a nickel a piece.”

With the family are not only the Calderon children, but Octavio, a boy just Ana’s age whom their family had sort of “adopted” in an unofficial manner. Upon arrival the kids are put into school and Ana and Octavio, the oldest, begin in 6th grade.

In 1937 by the time Ana is 17 her father demands she quits school to get a job and help out with home finances. He doesn’t want her to have “pretensions” but to work like her mother and other women he knew had worked.

In the meantime Ana and Octavio had fallen in love and made love lots up on the hill. She gets pregnant and her father finds out (but not about Octavio being the father) and tries to kill Ana. A Japanese lady in the neighborhood hides her, but her Father “curses” her and swears he will kill her.

Through neighbors Ana goes to live with Mrs. Amy Bast and her husband Franklin. They are local egg farmers and joyfully take Ana in. Ana is Roman Catholic the Basts are Protestant who are in the habit of reading the Bible every night. Ana really enjoys the readings and their discussions.

The family mainly comes through the war years, though Octavio is wounded. After the war he marries Ana’s younger sister, Alejandra. She’s 3 years younger than Ana. Alejandra had always loved Octavio and despised Ana because of her relationship with Octavio.

When Ana has her child, whom she and the Basts love dearly, he is named Ismael. This unusual biblical name was chosen because of a profound experience while reading their nightly biblical passages. They read the story of Hagar and her son Ismael, and Ana explains that while Ismael becomes very famous in biblical times, it is Hagar’s sacrifice and standing by her son that allows him to be. Thus Ana decides that Hagar is really the more important of the two. This turns out to reveal a good deal about who Ana herself is and of how she thinks.

Things take a dark turn in the novel as Octavio chances to see his son, and desires very much to take him away and does, effectively kidnaping him. Ana tries to get him back and in the process shoots and wounds Octavio and is herself then sent to prison. In a short time Ismael is taken from Octavio and adopted out to some people who live in San Francisco and all records of this adoption were frozen by the courts so that Ana could never learn where her son lives or under what name.

It does turn out that Ismael gets a very kind and fine set of parents and is renamed Terrance Wren.

Things turn out to go very well for Ana after she gets out of prison. She’s 29, and went into prison in 1948. During the Korean War her boss and closest friend of the owner of the business, is killed. Ana, however, is marvelous as a business woman and is given increasingly important jobs within the business and becomes the closest friend of the owner.

The novel takes a rather surprising and quick turn as little by little she moves up the ladder and become wealthy and very close to the owner. He dies in 1962 and leaves her his business and his estate. By 1965 she is very wealthy, a millionaire by 1965 owning – Calderon Enterprises.

The way she managed the business reflected her whole life:

“She made a singular reputation for herself among her staff members. On the one hand, Ana was perceived as willing to help and always open to suggestions; on the other, it was known that if contradicted or dissatisfied, she was prone to harshness. It was common knowledge that she demanded directness, honesty and promptness. If she asked for a report and gave a time and date for its presentation, she expected her request to be honored exactly. When someone hedged or sidestepped one of her questions or doubts, she cut him or her off curtly. She often said that she had no patience for pussyfooting.”

At age 45 she had a mansion, a rolls, and drivers. All of it, but she could never find her son. He, unknown to either of them that they are related, applies for an accounting position at her business and before long he and Ana become quite close. She comes to rely on him, and then, despite their age, they fall in love and even have sex!

However, eventually tragedy comes to their relationship. Her lover, and unknown son, is killed in a plane crash, and she goes on in a state of shock. However, she does come to learn that this lover and great employee was actually her son! She struggles deeply to make sense of this shock to her life.

When her dear friend, Amy dies, and she finally learns, from Amy’s husband, the ending of the Biblical story that Amy so loved to use to comfort her, the ending of the Biblical Hagar and Ismael reference. Amy had impressed on Ana the first part of Hagar’s story: “You are with child and share bear a son;” However, Amy had not FINISHED the quote, which Amy wanted to be sent to Ana upon Amy’s her death: “You shall call him Ismael because the Lord has heard you in your humiliation.” That line Ana had never heard before. She has to simply find why that hit her so hard. Eventually she remembers her father had cursed her when her mother died in childbirth, him believing that his wife died because the hardness of Ana’s birth ultimately caused this death.

She recalls her understanding, and faith, when, as a young girl and first living with Amy and her husband and they read the story of Hagar and Ismael with Amy and her husband and she had said:

“It seems to me that the Lord saved Hagar because she was important on her own, because she was who she ways. She came first, and God needed her so that her son could exist. That means Hagar was more valuable than her son.”

This brought her peace and she says, what is the last sentence of the novel:

“I was at peace because now I understood that I have lived and loved, and that I had discovered the value of who I am.”

This is a beautifully written and gripping novel. I couldn’t put it down and read it within two or three days.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett