Friday, July 26, 2013

Book 83: Conquistadora

Growing up, Ana was surrounded wealth and prestige that were the result of an ancestor's successes in the New World with Ponce de Leon.  As a result, she has always had a yearning to explore and to create something of her own rather than sit on the laurels of past ancestors.  Her dreams and desires aren't exactly feasible in 19th century Seville, and her relationship with her parents is distant.  She is an odd one within her society, not pretty enough, not social enough and generally just doesn't behave like women were expected to. 
She ends up meeting a set of twins, Ramon and Inocente, through her best friend Elena, and quickly gets engaged to Ramon.  It helps that his family has land and a plantation in Puerto Rico which would allow Ana to fulfill her life time wish for adventure and exploration.  The novel follows Ana's marriage to Ramon, their move to Puerto Rico, and Ana's struggle to forge something out of their plantation despite mismanagement and against the odds.
With this title, I was a bit worried about reading about a heroic woman who finds success at the cost of the native population (I liked Ines by Isabel Allende, but that was definitely an issue).  However, it takes place a few centuries after the Spanish conquest of the New World.  Additionally, the novel actually begins with a prologue from Columbian times, from the perspective of the people that the Europeans would annihilate, so right from the beginning, the reader is warned that everything that Ana strives for and already has has been built on the bones and blood of others.  As a sugar plantation owner, her success will depend on her ability to buy and control other human beings, and while she could probably be described as one of the "better" owners, striving to fairness, she has absolutely no problems making hard choices, pushing people to their limits and inflicting punishments in the name of her plantation.  Ana is hard woman and a product of her times who will do what it takes but that doesn't mean her actions are admirable or that the reader should even necessarily like her.
Ramon and Inocente share and do everything together, and this causes a rather weird dynamic in Ana's marriage.  Additionally, their mother babies her sons, and even moves to Puerto Rico with them but she despises Ana, blaming her for every bad thing that happens.  And while it is easy to see her point, as the novel goes on, her inability to see any negatives in her sons is irritating.  Ana is a hard worker, while her sons play at work, having been raised as proper gentlemen.  While the relationships between the characters were fascinating, not a single one of these charactes comes off that well.  They are all flawed.  I wouldn't recommend this one to someone that needs a likable main character.  Overall, I enjoyed it as a character study, but I felt more like I was observing the story and never was completely wrapped up in.  I still liked it, but I was also somewhat distant and detached from the majority of the characters, which I would say actually describes the way many of the characters acted with each other as well.

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