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The Fifth Sun by Mary Helen Lagasse

The Fifth Sun

by Mary Helen Lagasse

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A frightening number of factual and spelling errors; vastly overwritten and seemingly not edited at all. Sad, because the premise was wonderful and the characters could have been compelling if they weren't dragged interminably through WAY too many pages. ( )
  lulaa | Oct 11, 2013 |
This novel is about Mercedes Vasconcelos, a young Mexican woman convinced that the road to a better life for her and her growing family passes through the United States.

Set in the early 20th century, Mercedes is used to poverty while growing up in Mexico. Armed with a name and address, she takes a boat to New Orleans, to make a better life for herself. Around this time, she has a child out of wedlock, and is told, in effect, don’t come home.

Life is hard in 1930s New Orleans, but Mercedes becomes a housekeeper at a local rooming house, and she manages (sometimes just barely). She meets Manuela Maldonado, an older woman from the same part of Mexico. Manuela is a strong, proud woman who becomes a sort-of substitute mother to Mercedes.

When the housekeeping job ends, Mercedes and Manuela cook various food items, like tamales, and sell them door-to-door. Mercedes marries Jesus, who changes his name to Jesse, and has several sons. One of them is born with severe digestive problems, and doesn’t live very long.

The family is sent back to Mexico. Letters from Manuela assure Mercedes and Jesus that their three boys will have no problem returning to New Orleans, and can stay with her (they were born in America). Through a bureaucratic snafu, Mercedes and Jesus are not allowed to join them. The reason is the concern that Mercedes and Jesus will immediately go on welfare, despite the total lack of evidence that the two ever used welfare in the past. After months and months of separation, a very pregnant Mercedes enlists a coyote to take her across the Rio Grande River.

This story of the Mexican immigrant experience is a quiet tale from a native of New Orleans, but a really good tale and is well worth reading. ( )
  plappen | Apr 22, 2008 |
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