Three parallel love stories and a pilgrimage inform Samartin’s second novel (Broken Paradise, 2007).
Conceived when her mother, a Mexican orphan, is raped, Jamilet is born with an angry red birthmark that extends from the nape of her neck to the backs of her knees. After her mother dies, teenage Jamilet, illiterate because social ostracism kept her from attending school, crosses the Rio Grande to join her Aunt Carmen in Los Angeles. Beer-swilling, full-figured Carmen loves a married man, Louis. She welcomes Jamilet primarily as a cook and housecleaner. With forged documents, Jamilet gets a menial job in a mental hospital, where she is assigned to care for one patient, the elderly Antonio, who insists his name is Señor Peregrino. Antonio has not ventured outside his private room in years. Sinister, yellow-eyed Nurse B., Jamilet’s boss, forbids her to converse with Antonio. But he pressures her to listen to his story, about his pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago in Spain. Antonio, a handsome youth, and his ugly but wealthy companion, Tomas, make the journey as a prelude to entering the priesthood. En route they encounter Rosa, a lovely, impoverished young woman, and Jenny, a plain, headstrong American heiress. Rosa enchants both young men. When a soldier, Andres, rebuffed by Rosa, challenges Tomas and Antonio to a duel, they face certain death, until Andres unexpectedly withdraws. Antonio and Rosa vow to marry at Santiago, but upon arrival, Jenny tells him that Tomas and Rosa have already wed. Married to Jenny, and grown prosperous in the United States, Antonio doesn’t learn the truth about his lost love until decades later, and so begins his isolation. Inspired by the tale, Jamilet now understands her own infatuation with Eddie, who keeps wondering why she eschews skimpy fashions despite L.A.’s heat. The stories of missed connections presented here intersect, enshrining themes such as the superficiality of beauty and the impact of marks that are more than skin-deep.
Soulful and unsentimental.