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Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago

Conquistadora (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Esmeralda Santiago

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2601843,918 (3.74)2
Authors:Esmeralda Santiago
Info:Vintage (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library

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Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago (2011)



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Ana Cubillas is the only child of wealthy, aristocratic Spaniards. Raised to be a proper young lady, she chafes against the restrictions of her position in society. In her grandfather’s library she finds diaries of an ancestor who traveled to Puerto Rico with Ponce de Leon, and she is convinced her destiny lies on that remote island. When she meets the handsome twin brothers Ramon and Inocente Argoso, she finds a way to get there. Ana marries Ramon, and in 1844 they travel to the remote sugar plantation the brothers have inherited on the island.

This is a sweeping historic epic romance and adventure, focused on one strong woman who refused to give up her dreams. She endures unrelenting heat, disease, isolation and relatively primitive facilities. She finds that while expectations are that she be “the lady” of the hacienda, her husband and his brother are not suited to the hard work required to make Los Gemelos the success she envisioned, so she sets to work – pushing, cajoling, pleading and working to make her dream come true. She perseveres despite business setbacks, hurricanes and personal losses. She is not always a likeable person; she can be tactless, single-minded, demanding and stubborn. She can also be loving, kind and generous.

The novel focuses on the years from 1843 to 1865, though we get a little of Ana’s childhood to help define her character. The island’s history is a very important part of Ana’s story. The economic and political challenges of the time period – slavery, class structure, allegiance to a distant king, etc – are explored and examined with a critical eye.

I liked that Santiago took time to flesh out some of the minor characters, particularly several of the slaves or free blacks on the plantation or in nearby villages. I loved Sina Damita, Nena la Lavandera, Conciencia and Flora. My heart broke to hear the story of Jose (the carpenter), a man who endured with dignity and grace.

Santiago writes vividly about the island itself. I spent a couple of months in San Juan back in the mid-1960s. One weekend we drove across the mountains to Ponce – about 65 miles as the crow flies, but about 3 hours on the road (no interstate highway at that time) through the rainforest of the interior. Santiago’s descriptions are so colorful, that even if I had never been there, I could have easily pictured the setting.

At the story’s end, Ana is only 39 years old. And while I was completely satisfied with the book, I was sorry to see it end. I hope Santiago is planning a sequel.

There are few authors who can really do justice to the work when reading the audio version of their own books. Santiago was marvelous. Her passion for the story – for Ana and the other characters – comes through in her performance.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
This book chronicles the life of Ana, a sugar plantation owner in Puerto Rico during the 1800's and exposes slavery on the plantations with all its horrible inhumane abuses, nonetheless it is a great read. ( )
  cojak | Aug 8, 2014 |
Overlong and not entirely satisfying on the question of slave ownership. Clunky at times, but still a pageturner. ( )
  ageoflibrarius | Jun 27, 2013 |
This was an interesting look at the history of Puerto Rico, which I didn't know much about. I would also say there are a few similarities to "Gone With the Wind," in that they are both about headstrong women in love with a parcel of land. ( )
  scote23 | Mar 30, 2013 |
Conquistadora is a must for lovers of sweeping epics. The story revolves around a young girl who leaves her native Spain with her husband and his twin to conquer the wilds of a sugar cane plantation in remote Puerto Rico during the 1800's. ( )
  bc104 | Apr 10, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307268322, Hardcover)

Francisco Goldman Reviews Conquistadora

Francisco Goldman is the author of Say Her Name, The Art of Political Murder, and The Ordinary Seaman. He lives in New York City and Mexico City.

Conquistadora is many vivid things all at once, and for the reader, they happen in your body, imagination and soul. It’s a swashbuckling adventure, visceral and ardent; it’s a historical novel so seamlessly told that you don’t realize your heart’s pounding even as your brain’s amassing a wealth of fascinating new knowledge. This is a book that is like that one small island you’ve been longing for since the great adventure and pirate stories of childhood. But the island is real, and this novel tells a real story--an important piece of history--that has never been told before. It’s a story about Puerto Rico, Esmeralda Santiago’s birthplace, and it shows us the island in a way that we’ve never seen before.

Here also is a portrait of characters I came to know and to care about, far from the usual New World stock cast of rapacious and greedy Spanish plantation owners chasing after slave and Creole girls. I was especially intrigued from the start by Ana, whom we first meet as a teenager in a convent in Seville in 1826, bent over the yellowing pages of some journals. (I have an established proclivity for historical novels that begin in convents!) Ana’s story, as every feisty convent girl’s life story should, begins and ends with rebellion: those journals belong to an ancestor of hers who journeyed to Puerto Rico with Ponce de Leon, and when Ana travels there just after her eighteenth birthday, she is a señorita de buena familia rebelling against expectations--of her class, her gender, and the time period. By 1865, she’s rich: a wealthy plantation owner on the island. She’s lost none of her fire. But when the slaves on whom her sugarcane business was built catch the winds of change when Lincoln is elected in the US, she may lose it all. In the decades in between, Ana loves and loses, and finds her true home and her destiny. Puerto Rico, like many tropical “paradises,” turns out to be not the fantasy she’d dreamed on, but a harsh land with harsh realities--a place that rewards only the toughest. The surprising Ana is an irresistible heroine despite the history she carries. She is a woman of her time, for good or ill. A woman who by the end of this sweeping story, comes to define her life not just by all that she has conquered but also all that she has lost. Most importantly, she lives in the reader’s imagination.

Conquistadora is a novel that surpassed my every expectation. It brings a hitherto unknown swath of history alive through great storytelling and narrative verve.

Esmeralda Santiago has written a brilliant and blazingly alive novel, as engrossing and just plain fun as any I have read in a long while.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:15 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Drawn to the exotic island of Puerto Rico by the diaries of an ancestor who traveled there with Ponce de Leon, Ana Cubillas becomes involved with enamored twin brothers Ramon and Inocente before convincing them to claim a sugar plantation they have inherited.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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