In this prequel to Now Silence (2011), Shepard tells the story of a Mexican-American family that believes that a hidden fortune will enable them to buy back land taken by the U.S. government in 1848.
In 1596, conquistador Juan de Ornate’s expedition began a journey of more than 1,000 miles from the center of Mexico to the outlying, barren reaches of what would become northern New Mexico. Although their search for gold and silver proved fruitless, they founded a small colony in this dangerous outpost; in 1610, the settlement was granted official recognition as La Villa de Santa Fe. Shepard’s historical novel revolves around the descendants of these original settlers: Faustino Garcia, his wife Nicasia, and their families. It’s now the 1930s, and Santa Fe’s impoverished Hispanics feel the encroachment of modern life. While Faustino and his contemporaries still speak the Castilian Spanish of their forbears, his young sons are equally fluent in Spanish and English. (Shepard liberally mixes Spanish phrases in with the English text, bringing readers into the moment of cultural change.) The arrival of two wealthy Easterners, Michael and Robert, who’ve bought and renovated the great hacienda of Nicasia’s late Tia Dona Serafina, signals Santa Fe’s budding transformation to a great artist and tourist mecca. As they cavort with their elite cohorts, the two newcomers show little respect for the Hispanic traditions that have sustained the sleepy community. There’s only one solution, Faustino thinks: he must recover the lost treasure buried somewhere in the adobe walls of Dona Serafina’s house. Faustino’s foibles and frustrations in this quest propel the narrative forward and drive the obsessed, fanatically religious, and occasionally tedious man to the brink of madness. The story is slow-moving, interspersed with chapters devoted to the 400-year history of Santa Fe, and the plot is a bit far-fetched. However, Shepard’s prose smoothly details the dusty, arid landscape, the ever changing skyscape, and the vibrant colors of Mexican clothing as well as the back-breaking, centuries-old work of digging irrigation ditches. Overall, it conveys a realism that will keep many readers engaged.
A historically and culturally informative tale of the tragic fall of a proud man.