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Book Review
By

Jose B. Gonzalez

 

 


The Heiress of Water
By Sandra Rodriguez Barron
Publisher: Rayo (2006)
ISBN: 0061142816

 

It's rare to find a first book by an author and get the sense that the best is yet to come.  Yet Sandra Rodriguez Barron shows off her writing skills in The Heiress of Water in such an impressive way that the reader can't help but feel that while this may be her first book, she certainly knows what she is doing.

Barron has a gift for narration and tells this story in such a smooth way that it's not surprising that the German language rights to this book have recently been sold.  The book is about Monica, a woman whose life is pulled like an ocean current toward a dark and deep unknown.  Her connection with nature and more specifically, the ocean, provides her with a unique perspective on life.  At the beginning of the story, we meet her mother, Alma, who has an unparalleled understanding of the ocean and the powers of the sea.  A native of El Salvador, Alma has inherited a passion for cones from her own family and has made it her life mission to find the Conus furiosus, a cone snail species with the power to heal. 

The mother's relationship with a reputed Communist in El Salvador during the time of the Civil War mysteriously results in her disappearance.  Once she is presumed dead, Monica and her father, an American citizen, depart to Connecticut where they start their lives anew.  There, as an adult working as a physical therapist, Monica meets Will, a Puerto Rican man whose wife has been in a horrible car accident and who needs a miracle.  Monica and Will have a common goal--to help his wife, yet they guiltily and mutually share strong feelings for each other.

To a certain extent, this book is not what "critics" might consider literary, in part because it is about love and relationships and not about the social ills of the world.  However, it's too easy to dismiss such books.  Sure, on many levels The Heiress is about relationships--Monica and Will's, Will's and his wife's, Monica and her boyfriend's, and so on.  But it is far from a cliche of boy and girl falling in love.  As Barron tells the story, we learn about oceanic life, about El Salvador, about myths and legends, and about the upper-class. The latter is significant because while many Latino/a writers today inevitably wind up writing from the perspective of disenfranchised lower-class populations, this book is about characters with privilege.  It doesn't present a perfectly realistic view of all classes, but perhaps that is not its purpose.  One scene of a young, poor Salvadoran girl who gives birth and eagerly wants to give her newborn away without regret exemplifies a distorted view that the narrator has of those without money and power.  While such lower-class characters are not romanticized or overly idealized, they are at times presented in a way that may be unsettling to those who are used to seeing the poor Latinos as the heroes.  Still, just the fact that Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins chose to publish a work that is about the "other" Latino socioeconomic class is a credit both to their open-mindedness and Barron's creativity.

I am unaware of Barron's plans for future novels, but based on this work, I get the strong sense that she will have a mainstream following.  The story is somewhat complex, yet the author weaves it together in such a seamless, polished way, that I know I won't be the only one waiting for her second book.

 

Jose B. Gonzalez is the Editor of LatinoStories.Com, the Co-Editor of Latino Boom: Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature, and an award-winning poet and educator who has been a featured speaker at various colleges and universities nationwide.