Goldman (The Ordinary Seaman, 1997, etc.) returns to 19th-century Central America to trace the life and loves of a half-Indian, half-Irish near-nun who falls for José Marti.
Sexier-than-pretty María de las Nieves Moran entered one of the many convents in her nameless little Central American homeland not for love of God but for love of her bosom friend Paquita. It’s a long story (densely written, it’s muy long), but nubile, adolescent, and beautiful Paquita had become the romantic object of the much older El Anticristo, anticlerical leader of the current Liberal rebel forces. Paquita had promised not to lose her virginity until María de las Nieves had lost hers, so the latter’s vows should have put Paquita out of circulation forever. Not so. When El Anticristo, without too much trouble or bloodshed, seizes the country’s helm, Paquita becomes the first lady and María de las Nieves, whose misunderstood sacrifice has netted little save a severe allergy for wool, is out of a job. El Anticristo and his Liberal government have disbanded the monasteries and convents, driving the career nuns into hiding and the novices back into the world. Multilingual María de las Nieves cashes in her small inheritance to buy a little house and become a functionary in the English embassy, where she becomes the object of numerous crushes. She, however, has eyes only for Cuban revolutionary poet José Marti, who has eyes for just about anything in a skirt in general and the beautiful daughter of the deposed president in particular, his Mexican fiancée notwithstanding. Too bad she can’t see her way to loving ambitious autodidact and fellow Indio Marco Aurelio (“Mack”) Chinchilla until they’ve both gone through more perils and upheavals than Candide and Cunégonde. Everybody winds up in New York.
Informative, chatty, wry, often amusing, but not enough so that readers won’t be checking their watches. Or calendars.