CONQUISTADORA by Esmeralda Santiago


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Or, Gone with el Viento: a Puerto Rican–set saga of forbidden love, slavery and humidity.

Gloriosa Ana María de los Ángeles Larragoity Cubillas Nieves de Donostia is a handful, breast-fed by gypsies and spoiled by a small army of dispensable servants. Still, the Spanish lass has her sights on independence and accomplishments won by herself, in the manner of her conquistador ancestor, Don Hernán, spinner of tales concerning gold, limpid rivers, “unusual fruits that dangled from climbing vines” and other such good things to be found on the distant island of Puerto Rico. But how to get to that “world beyond her balcony” from Spain? Well, it being the 19th century and all, Ana has to choose the right man to take her there. Check: There’s the obliging Ramón, who just happens to have a handsome brother—and from that starting point, Santiago turns this romance into a bodice-ripper and chest-heaver that wastes no time in getting hot and heavy. Early on, we find Ana exploring “the new sensations in her body, but [she] envisioned God frowning whenever she brushed her fingers against her budding breasts to feel the pleasure at the touch, so even her thoughts were forbidden.” Soon enough, we find her entertaining both brothers in flagrante, or, better, in a steamy plantation full of steamy slaves and their sullen overseers. What’s a nice girl to do? Well, wait as the menfolk start to drop dead one by one, the tropics being a dangerous place, watch as Tara South gets chewed up by termites and fruit bats and harbor a few regrets about having “committed the sins of adultery and fornication without seeking penance.” Ah, but then come the steely arms of another man and the passage of years, and lo, the jungle is conquered—at least until the sequel.

A pot-boiler—competent enough, with an exotic setting and characters, but nothing special within its genre.

Pub Date: July 12th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26832-7
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2011


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