An impressive debut about a strong woman often knocked down but never dragged out.
Guadalupe Magdalena Molina Vasquez ("Magda") was born into a culture that didn't value her. In her hardscrabble section of Mexico, females cooked, cleaned, nursed, fulfilled their sexual obligations, cooperated in reproducing the species, and obeyed masculine directives no matter how mindless. Outside of that, they were expected to keep their mouths shut and go to church a lot. From the beginning, though, it was clear that Magda Vasquez was subversive. Brainy, plucky, instinctively rebellious—and drop-dead beautiful—she always knew that Teatlán couldn't hold her and that whatever trick or exploitation she might resort to was legitimized by the requirements of the life force: that is, by her need to escape the choking grip of xenophobic Teatlán. With money garnered illicitly and a dress stolen from her sister, she finally flees, rides a bus into the big city, Tijuana, and there begins the journey that transforms Magda the innocent into Magda the elegant—a full-fledged woman of the world. But it's a bumpy journey even so. Following its erratic twists and turns, Magda moves from reluctant go-go dancer to pampered wife of a rich Mexican aristocrat to adored wife of an American professor. She becomes a mother, loses her child, then finds a way to regain her even though it costs her dearly. Experience teaches Magda hard lessons, how to endure misery, cope with happiness, and muddle through the in-betweens. She learns "the value of a good enemy" and that "the hardest failure is when you fail yourself"—which the indomitable Magda never does.
Another in that appealing line of grace-under-pressure heroines. Gershten’s first is also the first to win Barbara Kingsolver's Bellworth Prize, awarded "for a work of socially or politically engaged fiction." Stronger even than that, however, is the emotional engagement here.