By Graciela Limon
Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1994
ISBN # 1-55885-116-x
197 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
July 2008

This is a powerful and touching story of a girl born in Mexico in 1920. Her mother dies when she’s nearing her teens. As oldest child of a large family, she takes major responsibility for her siblings. Soon, however, her father despairs of raising his family in the Depression-era of Gulf Coast Mexico. First they move to the fruit picking work in northern Mexico, and soon after on to the U.S.

For reasons that are never really clear to her, her father never loves or accepts her and as Ana approaches adulthood troubles tumble down on her including an ill-advised love affair, a resulting child and finding herself adrift in facing enormous difficulties alone, expelled from the family.

What Ana never loses is some sort of deeply innate sense of her own worth. With the help of a couple good Samaritans, her life begins to bounce back until more major troubles intervene.

Ana’s spirit stays intact in the main, and she seems to conquer all difficulties to end up rich and fully in control of her life, at least to all external appearances. Finally, however, there is a final crash which brings her close to suicide.

Up to that last crisis I had followed Graciala Limon’s tale with rapt attention, completely taken into Ana’s life, even though finding her improbable rise to wealth and power stretching my ability to suspend disbelief.

The tragic dénouement seemed about to ruin the novel for me. In the last pages, however, author Limon played her final card of surprise and the whole novel fell into place as the Old Testament story of Hagar and her son was made apparent in Ana’s life and Ana’s own understand of this story which had run throughout most of the second half of the novel.

Unlike the well-known Existential philosopher/novelists Camus and Sartre, who have written on similar themes, the main character Ana is not consciously aware of such theories of existence, power, responsibility and the possibility for the individual. With Ana it was all intuitive. She was not at all aware of such theories of freedom and existence. As handled by Limon, this lack of self-reflective consciousness makes Ana even more believable and exciting.

This work is from 1994 when the question of immigration of Mexicans to the U.S. was not such a major theme as today, and especially since the “crossing” in the novel took place in 1932 and legally. Nonetheless, this novel is also a beautiful human story of how and why a family would risk so much to make that frightening trip and change of life to seek something better for their family, while making positive contributions to the life of their new nation. The novel can be read as much for that lovely story as the main plot of Ana’s movement toward full fulfillment as a person.

This is a beautiful written book and compelling story. I would recommend it to all.

Bob Corbett


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