You know I'm a sucker for a pretty cover!
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine was longlisted for the 2023 Joyce Carol Oats Prize. The book is her debut novel, though she also published an acclaimed collection of short stories and articles for major publications. Woman of Light is about a young Hispanic woman, Luz, in 1930s Denver. It's this quarter's pick for my work's Diversity and Inclusion Book Club, and yes, the author does share a Hispanic background with the main character and majority of side characters.
Luz comes from a line of women with a very vague gift for seeing the future, and Luz uses tea leaves to do so. Luz deals with racism, sexism, and poverty as she navigates a time period after her brother is kicked out of their home. She experiences first love, first lust, and a change in career. There are some time jumps, some of which are visions and some of which aren't, to show the last few generations of women.
This book covered a time period in which I didn't know much about Denver. Growing up in Colorado, our 4th grade Colorado History unit skipped from the frontier to current times, as if nothing interesting happened in between. (After reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I suppose I understand why that era isn't taught to 9- and 10-year-olds.) I found it interesting to see Denver from that era, though sad to see the pervasive racism and sexism.
I had two problems with the book that made it harder to read. First, the time jumps didn't fit into the story for me, and introduced so many characters that I had trouble remembering who was when. It also felt like a lot of things happed to Luz rather than because of Luz. Even in the climactic moment of the book, she doesn't initiate or resist it, she just goes with the flow. Since I prefer active characters (especially ones who are women) this was a major drawback for me. Aside from those issues, a smaller complaint was that Luz's gift, which felt so important in the blurb I read, had little impact on the story and in my opinion, might as well have not been included.
This book is for you if you're into historical fiction, especially the 1930s or the not-so-wild West, or if you're into literary fiction. It's not for you if you like your speculative elements to have a more central role, if you're looking for active characters, or if you're not in a good mindset for reading about racism, racially-motivated violence, or sexual assault.
Have you read Woman of Light? What do you think? Let's discuss in the comments!