Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This saga of life in Puerto Rico from the 1830-60s, seen through the eyes of slaves on a sugar plantation and Ana, the high-born, convent-educated Spanish woman who schemes to build her, her family's and her ancestors legacy on that island.
We start in Spain, moving through the world of strict social strata and behavior, where Ana lives as the unwanted daughter in her family (three brothers died at birth). When she marries, it is to Ramon, who, with his twin brother Inocente, will inherit property and business on Puerto Rico; Ana's ancestor was one of the first Spaniards on the island and it is through his descriptions of his journeys that Ana starts to dream of her life there.
Life on the plantation is nothing like the lives she, Ramon and Inocente led in Spain, but their dedication and hard work start to make a go of the farm... until Miguel (Ana and Ramon's son) is born and Inocente leaves to get married. Misfortune follows, as Inocente is murdered on his way to San Juan and Ramon never recovers from his grief. Ana is left on the plantation by her in-laws in exchange for Miguel.
Over the next twenty years, Ana fights to keep the land profitable and marries the mayorduomo of the property, while all around her the slaves are treated as, well, slaves, with beatings, being locked into their barracks at night and being sold away from their families. As the Civil War in the US occurs and Abraham Lincoln is assassinated, tensions between the blancos and the slaves grows.
We also learn about the history of some of the other islands and the history of a few of the slaves. This isn't an epic saga in the same way that Gone With the Wind or Belva Plain's novels are, but the in-depth look at the lives portrayed does fit that genre. It was also interesting to learn more about the history of slavery not here in the United States.
ARC provided by publisher.