In 1945, a widowed Mexican immigrant faces powerfully difficult conditions in Ruiz’s (A Lawyer, 2012, etc.) latest novel.
With four children to feed and a recently deceased husband, migrant worker Jesusita González struggles to earn a living as a picker following California’s crops. Her children do their best but often exasperate their mother—particularly Paulina, the most frequent recipient of her wrath. Jesusita’s world changes significantly, however, when she’s convinced to attend a pilgrimage to a holy shrine of the Virgen de Guadalupe. There, she has a profoundly religious experience that deepens her faith. She befriends her local priest and becomes active in the church community. Unfortunately, though, she still experiences anger and rage. Poor Paulina is still her primary target, and the beatings are severe; Jesusita simply keeps Paulina out of school until the cuts and bruises fade. One day, Jesusita succumbs to her anger once again—and this time, she goes way too far. After struggling with her daughter on a riverbank, the girl gets swept away by the current. Did Jesusita push her? Was Paulina possessed by the devil? Did Jesusita want her to die? Jesusita struggles with these difficult questions, as well as those of the police and her neighbors, and her efforts take a disastrous toll on her family, on her body, and on her mind. Ruiz vividly displays his knowledge of the harsh conditions experienced by Mexican immigrants. However, his characters are just as harsh, and as a protagonist, Jesusita is about as unsympathetic as they come: she rarely expresses affection for her children, instead seeing them as just a burden to be borne. She feels no remorse for her beatings of Paulina, believing that they “weren’t sins.” But in this novel, things are hard for everyone. One subplot, for example, follows a woman who was being paid for sexual favors at 6 years old. Another tells of a mentally challenged boy who isn’t allowed inside the house of his adoptive family. The misery in this novel is abundant and acute, and as a result, many readers may agree with one character who remarks, “I’ve heard enough about Jesusita and her kids.”
A bleak look at a bitter life that may be too much for readers to bear.