Friday’s Washington Post review of Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago (Knopf, 7/12) reads like a fan letter. The novel features Ana Cubillas, a female sugar plantation owner in Puerto Rico during the mid-19th C. With lines like the following, it’s no wonder that the book rose on Amazon’s sales rankings;

Santiago’s storytelling is thrilling, and her descriptions of the island and its multinational denizens are luminous. Her characters’ complexities emerge and collide while the plot twists like tropical vines.

Given the time and place and her main character’s position, author Santiago had to come to grips with the fact that Ana would have owned slaves. She tells USA Today that she “never thought she would create or love a heroine who owned slaves.” The NYT Book Review focuses on this aspect of the novel “The book’s strength is its Rubik’s Cube portrait of Ana, an unconventional, ambitious woman whose attitudes toward children, slaves and lovers perplex and engross.” People (which makes it a a People Pick in the 7/12 issue) hits that note more clearly,

With her tough portrait of a female planter, Santiago speculates, charitably but unromantically, about those who didn’t speak [about slavery[. Ana is emotionally intelligent enough to imagine how slaves might feel, to understand their longing for freedom, yet ruthless enough to use and punish them in order to flourish herself. Neither white witch nor angel, she is convincing despite her contradictions — indeed, because of them.

Esmeralda Santiago
Retail Price: $27.50
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Knopf – (2011-07-12)
ISBN 9780307268327

Audio, Books on Tape;  Random House Audio;  Spanish, Suma/antillana
Audio and ebook on OverDrive

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