A Boring Book, a little Cervantes en Puerto Rico, and My Opinion

De musico, poeta y loco, todos tenemos un poco. (We are all a bit of a poet, a bit of a musician, and a bit mad.) Cervantes

I love this quote, which was in Esmeralda Santiago’s beautifully written book Conquistadora. It is all about a woman who becomes a hacendada (owner of a hacienda) in Puerto Rico in the 1800’s, a time when it was unheard of for a woman to hold this sort of role. I had a hard time putting this book down, although considering I’ve had company, run back and forth to the hospital to visit someone who needed me and been managing my regular life on top of it all, reading a book this long in one sitting is indeed mad. I was in Puerto Rico a long time ago, and the descriptions of El Morro and San Juan, as well as the countryside, are just beautiful to read in addition to painting accurate verbal pictures of what I saw in person. But my favorite part of this story is how this woman truly does become a conquistadora, conquering illness and hardships and society’s preconceived ideas about women to become mistress of her own estate. It is not a particularly happy book, as the owner/slave relationships unfold and you see all the complexities of society back then. You end up sympathizing both with the slaves as well as with the owners, and realize that you cannot just upend a societal structure, no matter how evil it might be, without thinking forward to how to handle the issues that arise when change takes place. This is not in any way to say that injustice should be allowed to continue, but it is an extremely interesting read because the author makes you think below the obvious.

She also has to make heartbreaking sacrifices, and as a reader, you find yourself wondering if you would love something so much you would be willing to sacrifice what she does. It makes you realize the truth of another quote in the book:

Hablar de la historia es abandonar momentaneamente nuestro obligatorio silencio para decir (sin olvidar las fechas) lo que entonces no pudieron decir los que padecieron el obligatorio silencio. (Talking about history means we momentarily abandon our obligatory silence to tell (without forgetting the dates) the suffering that others could not express in their obligatory silence. Reinaldo Arenas, “El Central”

Perhaps the depth and beauty of Esmeralda Santiago’s book is the reason I found it so difficult to finish Friday Night Knitting Club. I had been looking forward to reading this book, especially since my own knitting group has been so much fun and such a source of inspiration. The women (and gentleman!) in my group are such great friends, and even though this book was about women who bond over knitting, it didn’t capture this element at all. I am all for chick lit, but my judgment about any book pretty much boils down to whether it grabs me or not, and this one did not. When it comes to music, movies, books, etc., I don’t care about critical reviews, but it annoys me when a writer expects to sell books filled with bad grammar and sentence structure (which this book was) and then fails to even create gripping characters or storylines. I like the idea behind the book, but I won’t be rushing out to buy anything else by this author.

I find books very inspiring, both for the opportunity to step into someone else’s head, and also just to learn of different times and places. I know alot of artists work to be well-read due to the inspiration they absorb from reading. Next up on my reading list: Tim Gunn’s Golden Rules. I truly wish Tim Gunn was a part of my life. I don’t envy the Project Runway contestants except for the fact they get one-on-one time with Tim Gunn.


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