I love summer. Lazy afternoons provide the perfect opportunity to lay out in the sand and sun with a good book. The best summer reads make you laugh, make you cry, and leave you feeling fulfilled and inspired. Ana Castillo’s So Far From God does just that. The story centers around a single mom and her four daughters, trying to make it on their own in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each daughter has her own unique and quirky personality as well as her own abilities, supernatural or otherwise. Castillo creates a tale of magical realism as she weaves a mysticism into the characters that endears you to them with every turn of the page.
The novel opens with a flashback to Sofia’s youngest daughter’s death, or so she thought. Her daughter (whom they call La Loca, we never learn her real name) has an epileptic fit one night and falls into a coma, leading the family to believe that she is dead. At the funeral the next day, as the priest is giving the eulogy, La Loca flies out of the casket, lands on the roof of the church and proclaims that she has been to hell and back. The whole town is so amazed by her rebirth they begin to call her La Loca Santa (The Crazy Saint) and people come from all over to see her. Soon enough, the novelty wears off as the townspeople become weary of her antisocial and eccentric behavior. They eventually drop the “Santa“, merely calling her “La Loca“. La Loca adores her family but cannot stand to be around anyone other than her sisters, her mother and the animals they keep. Needless to say she doesn’t have many friends, but her ability to see the future makes for an interesting family dynamic.
Esperanza is the oldest of the sisters, the only one to graduate from college. She meets the man of her dreams in college and the two of them join the Chicano Movement together, becoming activists. Eventually Esperanza, whose name means hope, follows her own dreams that lead her away from her man and out into the world on her own. She is the most independent of the sisters and her gifts and talents prove to be more intellectual than spiritual or supernatural. She leaves home to discover herself, and in turn her family begins to discover things about themselves on account of her being gone.
Fe (translated as faith in Spanish), is the second eldest of the sisters and is considered to be the “normal” one. She has a job as a bank teller, is engaged to marry the love of her life and has finally saved up enough money to buy a house. Everything seems to be going her way, until suddenly it isn’t. Fe’s life falls apart in an instant, which leads her to have a mental break down in which she perpetually screams for an entire year. It is only after el grito, that she is able to discover the things that are really important to her.
Caridad is the third daughter, the most beautiful and the most well known for riotous living–that is until one night when she is attacked by a beast that leaves her disfigured. Caridad, whose name means charity, becomes clairvoyant after the attack and goes under the apprenticeship of a curandera to learn the ancient healing arts. As she struggles to move on from her past and embrace her new talents, some things make it difficult for her to leave her old life behind. Caridad was my favorite character because of the transformation that she makes and the strength that she has in her own identity. Her passion and desire to help others and her gentle demeanor made her a lovable character.
This book does have somewhat of a social justice/gender equality slant to it so if you are looking for a purely self-indulgent read, you will not get that in this book. These women are all examples of strong independent women trying to pave a way for themselves in the world, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but never giving up. The book also deals with issues of racism and discrimination against the Chicano community. Esperanza’s experience is blatantly one of a Chicano activist, but the other sisters experience more subtle forms of racism and deal with it in their own ways. I personally love the way Castillo weaves in serious topics with more light-hearted moments as well.
So if you’re looking for an engaging story, charming characters, some magical realism and a little taste of feminism (and come on, who can resist a book written by a woman, about women, for women) then this book’s for you! It’s one of my fave summer reads. I think I just might read it again this summer!