Last night I finished a book that my 15-year-old sister recommended to me. She may have recommended it to me a few years back – I have a massive to-read list (let’s talk books!), but I always get to things eventually. Between this book and the last that I read, I’ve been pretty immersed in other people’s worlds. That escape mechanism is an old one of mine: stressful life? Not really particularly sure what’s going on? Be somebody else.
Queen of America is the second and last in a series of two historical novels. They’re about Teresita Urrea, a folk saint and local hero just before the Mexican revolution (so, late 1800s/early 1900s). The author, Luis Alberto Urrea, – the great-nephew of Teresita herself – painstakingly researched the books over the course of several decades. My mother and I serendipitously gave one another the books for Christmas (she gave me Queen of America, I gave her The Butterfly’s Daughter – weird); once again, serendipitously, the author was the speaker at my graduation ceremony this weekend. It seems appropriate, and odd.
The two books focus on Teresita’s spiritual awakening and subsequent rise to prominence as a healer and saint; she is blamed by the Diaz government for revolutionary uprisings (by the Yaquis, an oppressed indigenous group in northern Mexico) and ultimately exiled from Mexico along with her father. The second book tells the tale of her escapades in the U.S., where she grows older and has of course all of the complicated ladythings that that entails, along with being a revolutionary saint. Now it’s not ranch life and alarming amounts of pilgrims that she has to deal with, but the quick pace and temptations of U.S. life and the exploitative white dudes that want to turn her fame to their own nefarious purposes – namely, making lots of cash.
Immediately after Queen of America I read Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly. This one – like the other – is about a young woman, Andi, living in an unfriendly world, buffeted by forces beyond her control. Unlike the other book, this one is directed at a young adult audience (expect lots of modern tech references and slang and piercings). Andi’s world has been shaken by murder and mental illness and she is pissed off at EVERYTHING, so her father (a Nobel Prize winner, natch) decides the best place to take her is France, where she can work on her thesis for her fancy prep school that she is in danger of failing out of. The two stay with an old friend of her father’s, a(n) historian of the French revolution, who lives in what’s basically a warehouse of historical materials. Our heroine is a musician (there’s actually a playlist on the author’s website that lists all of the music mentioned in the book, which is way cool) and works on writing her thesis on a mysterious composer in France and how his work has influenced modern rockers (like Led Zeppelin and the Red Hot Chili Peppers) ““ but while working on her thesis, she’s distracted by an old guitar she finds in the house, along with a diary dating back to the French revolution. The diary basically consumes her life, one that was painful to begin with and now (like me) was escapable. But the diarist’s life is perhaps even more painful, first due to crushing poverty and then due to her dangerous connections to the monarchy – particularly the dauphin, the young heir to the throne.
Both books are fantastic, but in utterly different ways. I’m a sucker for strong ladies (honestly, that’s basically my one criterion for books I probably will like: bring on the strong ladies!) (also, no pun intended) and they both are tremendously strong, intelligent, resourceful, etc etc etc. Reading these books directly after my last final last week on revolution was interesting, too, since they both discuss revolutions and talk about many of the trends that I was tested on – peasant involvement in revolution, for instance, or how the earliest revolutionaries are eventually turned on (and often killed) by later revolutionaries as “enemies of the revolution” or “counter-revolutionary.” And these books fulfilled my one requirement for this week: make me forget that I am unemployed and have far too much free time on my hands.
Both books can be found on Amazon or your local bookstore.