Cover Image: Woman of Light

Woman of Light

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Woman of light
I really wanted to love this book and maybe that’s where I went wrong. I had expectations that were too high and so the book fell flat (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself).

This multi generational story introduces us to Luz, her family and friends, and the challenges they faced in the segregated US. The overall plot was semi slow paced, but still engaging enough that I finished the book (and actually enjoyed the plot twist at the end). The underlying theme revolving segregation and how that impacted their lives definitely left me uneasy throughout, so a solid job there. I think what fell flat to me were the supporting characters - we got a peek into Lizette’s (Luz’s bff), Alonzo’s, David’s, Avel’s, Maria Josie’s, and Diego’s life, but we didn’t learn enough to fulfill our curiosity about them / get too attached to them. However, big ups to the author because she did a really good job at giving that feeling that you get after you hear your parent go off on a tangent, telling a story of folks they once knew a very long time ago en el cerro de la Atalaya.

I would recommend this book to folks who enjoy tales of the past, that leave you wanting a bit more, but give you juuuust enough. Thank you to NetGalley and One World for the ARC!
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Loved this one! I'm not really one for historical fiction, especially when it follows like multiple generations and you have to spend half your time figuring out how they connect, BUT I really enjoyed this story. Every character felt so visceral and real to me and despite the fact that some characters have bad qualities about them you never really grow to loathe them - which can sometimes put me off a book! I can't wait to check out more of Fajardo-Anstine's work in the future because her voice is truly so lyrical and complex, even when it seems simple. Definitely recommend this one
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When you pick up a book by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, you know that you’re in for a story that centers generations of Latine and Native American women in western United States. Woman of Light, her latest release, continues in this magnificent tradition by introducing us to a line of women whose lineage holds both turmoil and an immense capacity for finding their individual joys. 

It’s the 1930’s in Denver, Colorado and Luz Lopez has come to feel as comfortable as a young woman of color in a town full of bigots can be. Having moved from town to town for the majority of her young life following the dissolution of her parent’s marriage, Luz has become very content with the community she’s cultivated with her aunt, cousins, and friends that she’s made in the city’s Latine community. As with her earlier living situations, this too falls apart when her older brother, a romantic with his savvy head on his shoulders, falls in love with the wrong white woman. After he’s run out of town by the woman’s racist family, Luz becomes untethered to all that she holds dear, feeling as if a major piece of her is wandering in the wind. Just as her brother drifts further away from her to guarantee his safety, she gains insight into why it seems her family has always been fated to never remain together. As if the timing of these major events were not enough to set her into a self-examination spiral, her best friend is determined to marry within the same couple of months, a childhood friend provides her with a job that may have strings attached, and her steady boyfriend seems to hint towards a commitment that she may not be ready for.

In Woman of Light, Fajardo-Anstine has developed a very realistic historical account of a community of color making the best of the hostile environment that is the U.S. in the 1930s while also invoking character motivations that one can only find in fiction. I found the author’s voice consistent across the works that I’ve read from her and look forward to seeing any additional forays she may take into historical fiction in the future. This is definitely a book for those who like elements from the Western genre yet have yearned to hear a tale told from a marginalized point of view.
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I truly enjoyed Fajardo-Anstine’s collection of shorts and was looking forward to WOMAN OF LIGHT. My favorite part of this book was the perspective Luz brings as an Indigenous Chicana living in the post-Depression Midwest. It’s a voice that I feel is missing in the literary world — similar to HOW MUCH OF THESE HILLS ARE GOLD.

With that said, the story was missing some pizzazz for me. I felt the pacing was off and the jumping timeline didn’t really add to the story. I wasn’t sold by the contest set-up and while I appreciate the revisionist history perspective, I thought some things were too anachronistic: mainly Lizette and Luz’s sass and Marie Josie‘s queerness being so widely accepted. My understanding of women back in the 1930s were a lot more…stifled? But maybe that’s what Fajardo was trying to explore in her book? An intergenerational family of women who defied norms despite the sexism, racism, poverty, and overall the times.
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Kali Fajardo-Anstine, National Book Award finalist for Sabrina and Corina, now gives us Women of Light, a complex multi-generational portrayal of a struggling Chicano family descended from a mixed-race foundling.  The Prologue relates Desiderya Lopez’s 1868 discovery of Pidre, an infant boy, on the riverbank near the Pardona pueblo where she lives and is known as the Sleepy Prophet because of the hit or miss nature of her visions.

Although the story largely focuses Luz Lopez, Pidre’s tea leaf-reading descendent living in 1930s Denver, it moves back and forth through time, slowly filling in the stories of Pidre, his sharp-shooter wife Simodecea, his daughters, and his grandchildren--Luz and her older brother Diego, who charms both rattlesnakes and women.
Nicknamed “Little Light” as a child, Luz is said to contain the elders within her.  She has not only the ability to predict the future through tea leaves, but the gift to know the stories of her ancestors and to have the responsibility to perpetuate those stories. 

Covering the years from 1868 to 1934, Fajardo-Anstine divides Woman of Light into four parts, each part containing multiple chapters. The author clearly marks each time shift with location and year, such as “Denver, 1933” or “The Lost Territory, 1922-24.” Furthermore, she provides an outline of the generations, complete with character names and places, at the front of the book.  Although Fajardo-Anstine might have written the book chronologically, she would have lost the focus on Luz, the Woman of Light for whom the book is named. The slow revelation of each character’s backstory seemed the perfect organization. 

The result is not only an engaging family saga, but also a multicultural one bringing out the social and economic challenges a Chicano family faced during the Great Depression as well as asking questions about what determines the outcomes of one’s life. 

Thanks to NetGalley and One World/Penguin Random House for an advance reader copy of this highly recommended historical novel.

Shared on Barnes and Noble.
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Kali Fajardo-Anstine can do absolutely no wrong in my opinion. Her writing is gorgeous. It is arresting, compelling, lyrical, the kind of writing that makes you want to reread paragraphs over and over again to savor the words. I love a good multigenerational story, and this is a fantastic one. Sometimes the shifts from one timeline to another could be a bit abrupt, and there were times when I wanted more of a particular story, but overall I think this is just a beautifully written book that fans of historical fiction will love. I hope we will see more stories by and about folks of Mexican and Indigenous descent like this one.
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What a beautifully written historical fiction following the lives of a family and the struggles they face being chicanos. The first 1/4 of the book jumped around to different characters and time periods and I wasn’t paying enough attention so I had to go back and make sure I knew who was who but I loved the book.
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Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC: This is a luminous book--the central character is Luz-"Little Light" and the book is a chronicle of her family's experience in Denver and the "Lost Territory". The book explores Luz in the 1930's and her mother in the 1910's. The women in the family have some clairvoyant powers. They experience discrimination, betrayal, assaults and yet through their loving family ties, it is not an angry or hopeless book, but a book of beauty. I did find that I needed to go back and reread earlier chapters to recall the circumstances of Luz's brother Diego's banishing, and I think with the multiple narratives it is a book that will only improve with rereading. It is not magical realism, but beautiful prose and compelling narrative. A strong sense of place and characters.
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This book is full of magic. The way it made
me gasp and cry. Woman of Light weaved it's
story deeply into my heart. Thank you to the Author, publisher and NetGalley for the ARC
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This Western saga follows multi-generations of an Indigenous Chicano family from the late 1800s to the 1930s.  Most of the story focuses on Luz “Little Light” Lopez during the early 1930s as she fights for survival against poverty and racism, uncovers family secrets and history, and learns to love on her own terms.  

What I loved:
✨Luz’s coming-of-age storyline
✨History of strong women - living life on their own terms but still rooted in family traditions and values 
✨Beautiful storytelling - almost like listening to oral history from your elders, including vivid setting descriptions that transport you through each generational story 
✨Symbolism and Magical Realism elements.

Why Not 5 stars? 
✨Told in a nonlinear fashion made the audio confusing at times.  I recommend pairing the audiobook with the physical book.   
✨I wanted more!   The story is so beautifully written but mainly focused on Luz, which left me wanting to know more about Luz’s grandmother and great-grandmother.
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This is a character driven story about three generations of a Mexican/native family living in the US.  The story focuses mostly on the 3rd generation with flashbacks to the 1st.  Luz and Diego live with their aunt in Colorado in the 1920s. Racial tensions are high and there are frequent cases of police brutality or police looking the other way when the victims are not white.

I think that the story is an important one to read.  It offers an important perspective of groups that are often overlooked.  The characters are dynamic and flawed and experience a great deal of growth.

The book has a slower pace and at times I had difficulty staying engaged when it would switch POV/timelines. I think this book shows the effects of generational trauma.  The expenses involved with poverty and the difficulty of the American dream if you don't look a certain way.
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I wanted to love this, but it fell a bit flat for me. The story seems to follow different generations, however the last chunk primarily focuses on Luz and how she deals with race, police brutality, poverty, and gentrification. She’s somewhat of a naive character, and I felt like we didn’t get to see much of her gift. The story felt disjointed at many points, and I don’t think that her character of the history of her family was fleshed out well enough, and instead a lot of time is covered. I’m rounding up to 3 stars.
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LOVED this book. I read Sabrina & Corina last year, and Kali's writing has only become more beautiful and engaging. This story was immersive. The five generations of women are steely and loving, putting their family above all. At times, the non-linear timeline was harder for me to follow, but eventually I found the rhythm. The dates at the beginning of chapters helped.

I would have liked to get more backstory on the older generations of Luz's family, specifically Simodeca. I'm also still wondering (days later) about why Marie Josie sent Deigo away - I'm sure it was for his safety, but there seemed to be something more that she didn't tell Luz - I wanted more answers!

Overall, a beautiful story, compelling writing, and fantastic characters. Would definitely recommend for others!
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Book review: 'Woman of Light' a luminous, powerful multigenerational saga
By ASHLEY RIGGLESON FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR Jun 18, 2022  0

Kali Fajardo–Anstine’s work has been on my radar for a while, and her début novel, “Woman of Light” is one of my most anticipated releases of the year. I was so happy to get the chance to review Fajardo–Anstine’s latest. It did not disappoint.

“Woman of Light” begins with the story of a woman known as the “Sleepy Prophet” in the American West. She is gifted with the sight, and her story unfolds when she finds a baby abandoned in the night. Readers soon learn an abbreviated life story of these characters. This multigenerational saga then begins to explore the lives of women from subsequent generations. We meet Maria Josefina, who would do anything for her family, and her niece, Luz, who has inherited the sight.

The story of this Indigenous Chicano family is not told chronologically and instead moves back and forth in time. As the novel expands, however, certain themes begin to build across the generations. Fajardo–Anstine does not shy away from controversial issues such as poverty and racism. And though the fragmentation of this novel, as well as certain events that happen over the course of its pages, suggest that this is a novel in which intergenerational trauma plays a key role, the family’s love for each other makes it feel luminous and hopeful. 

When I initially began this book, I was unsure whether it should be called a novel at all. The first leaps between the generations were quite jarring, and it was difficult to see how Fajardo-Anstine would make this story of disparate pieces into a cohesive whole. Yet, the author eventually pulls the threads together beautifully, and I was strongly reminded of “Crooked Hallelujah” by Kelli Jo Ford, which takes a similar approach in its storytelling.

The characters and setting of this powerful and poignant novel are vivid, and Fajardo-Anstine’s voice is entirely her own. And I can say truthfully that, although one can draw comparisons to other novels (Aspects of “To Kill a Mockingbird” come to mind), this novel feels original and vital. And while Fajardo-Anstine explores some challenging themes, there are stark moments of happiness and love between the characters, and the sadness never feels as though it is too much to bear. Instead, as it should, love wins out.

Ashley Riggleson is a freelance reviewer from Rappahannock County

This review was originally published in the Free-Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, VA.
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In 1930s Denver, Luz is distraught when her older brother is run off by a white mob. She survives on her earnings as a laundress and tea leaf reader, but finds a new purpose when she starts having visions of her ancestors on the nearby Indigenous Lost Territory. As Luz pieces together her visions, she understands that she is the only person who can preserve her family’s history.

I really enjoyed the historical setting, atmospheric descriptions of the American West, and magical elements in this story. It's a fascinating concept, and I totally love listening to Kali Fajardo-Anstine talk about what inspired her to write it. I definitely wanted to learn more about some of the characters and get a fuller picture of their lives!
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One of the first books I bought early on in the pandemic was Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s short story collection, Sabrina & Corina. When I saw she was releasing a full length novel, I knew immediately that I needed to read it as soon as possible.

Fajardo-Anstine is one of the most artful writers working today. She has such a way with words that immediately pull you into the setting through descriptive language and strong characters. I am a huge fan of multi-generational stories, and this one does not disappoint. It is a wonderful take on westerns that actually demonstrates how diverse and multi-cultural the west was by centering the story around an Indigenous Chicano family. This story feels so personal as you can tell the author is writing for her own family and using inspiration from her own family history.

The main character of Luz is so relatable in that she often makes the wrong decision. Although there are elements of love stories in this, the real love story is definitely about a family and how it has survived decades of hardship, poverty, racism, etc. The women in this story are so inspiring in their resilience and their love for one another.

This story also has elements of magical realism which I always appreciate. The family definitely has a history of being in touch with more psychic abilities, and it lends a very interesting note to the story. The jump in timelines was sometimes disorienting, but it definitely helped to build a sense of who this family was and always has been. I will end this review on a quote from the book as it really sums up what this book is about, “I think everything that’s ever happened or going to happen to us and the people we love is around said Luz. All we have to do is reach for it.”
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As a Colorado Native, and a Lopez from the San Luis Valley, this book immediately resonated with me. Based in Denver in the 1930s, we follow Luz "Little Light" Lopez as she finds her own path in the city while also being the door to her family's past. Luz has a special talent in tea reading. She is used to reading the futures for those who ask, but then she starts having strong visions of her ancestors and all their struggles.

There are chapters that jump back in time to tell the story of Luz's grandparents and great-grandparents giving this book a multigenerational feel. I enjoyed both the present and past chapters and the characters that come with them. 

Kali Fajardo-Anstine does a great job shedding light on to the struggles Chicano families faced in Colorado in the early 20th century, especially the women. Luz is a great main character because she is smart, brave, and resourceful, but she is not perfect and her flaws are very human. My only gripe is that I wanted to know Luz more. I wanted to be more in her head and feel more of her feelings.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and thank NetGalley for the advanced copy. This book is now available so go grab your copy!
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Beautifully written novel about a time in our country’s history that is underrepresented: Mexican Americans in the early 20th century. Set in Denver, I learned so much about the plight of these people and how brutally they were treated by their white fellow Americans. A story about women and the resilience and persistence they have was inspiring. Although parts dragged for me, I was completely absorbed in the grandparents’ story. Heartfelt thanks to One World publishers for the advanced copy. This is one on a lot of “must read” lists and I’m so grateful I was given the opportunity to do just that.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for the ARC in exchange for a honest review

3.5 stars rounded up

This book was haunting. It was a beautifully written story that transcended generations. Writing a story about a Mexican-Native American family in the mountainous west at the turn of the century had to have been difficult; reading about the hardships and the racial treatment from white men and women was difficult on my end so I can imagine what writing it felt like. However, it's a part of our history and to forget would be to put us in a position to repeat ourselves.

I thought the author did a good job showing the family's journey to how they got to where they are today, and the interwoven storylines painted a struggle that was incredibly humbling. Unfortunately the part that I felt was a bit disconnected were the parts that took place in the "today" (Or in this case, Denver 1933). I thought the flashbacks were well grounded in storytelling, but the present time I felt like was a bit out of place. Some of the behaviors for Luz didn't make sense; the flashbacks made it seem like they influenced her decisions and her thoughts, but her actions in the present time didn't support that. The storyline with David and Avel I didn't like; throughout every flashback the author portrayed the women in Luz' family as strong and determined; surviving when everything is against them doing so. This storyline made Luz seem weak and reliant on men, and I felt it didn't do the women in her family justice, especially Maria Josie. However, I loved how the author had Diego return to face the consequences of his actions- when history showed the men of his family turning their cheeks and abandoning them, he returned to his family to continue his legacy.

Overall I enjoyed this story. I don't always enjoy reading historical fiction, but I really enjoyed this one
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"The radio smelled of dust and minerals, and in some ways reminded Luz of reading tea leaves. They were similar, weren’t they? She saw images and felt feelings delivered to her through dreams and pictures. Maybe those images rode invisible waves, too? Maybe Luz was born with her own receiver. She laughed, considering how valuable such a thing must be, a radio built into the mind."
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"Maria Josie insisted Diego and Luz must learn the map, as she called it, and she showed them around first on foot and later by streetcar. She wore good walking shoes, and dressed herself and the children in many layers. It tends to heat up, she had said, another moment, it might hail. The siblings learned to be cautious. It was dangerous to stroll through mostly Anglo neighborhoods, their streetcar routes equally unsafe. There were Klan picnics, car races, cross burnings on the edge of the foothills, flames like tongues licking the canyon walls, hatred reaching into the stars."

There is a lot going on in this novel, so buckle up. Focused on the experiences of 17/18 year-old Luz Lopez--the Woman of Light of the story--in Depression-era Denver, the story alternates between her contemporary travails and the lives of her ancestors. The beginning is very Moses-like, a swaddling Pidre being left by his mother on the banks of an arroyo in The Lost Territory in 1868. We follow Pidre and his children and grandchildren into the 1930s. All have special qualities. Among them, Luz, his granddaughter, reads tea leaves, seeing visions of both past and future. Diego, his grandson, would definitely belong to House Slytherin in a different universe. He tames and performs with rattlesnakes. 

This is a story about stories, how telling them carries on identity, while ignoring them can help erase the culture of a people. Pidre is noted as a talented story-teller, urged, as he is given away, to remember your line. KFA remembers hers, giving a voice to Chicano-Indigenous history.

"My ancestors were incredibly hard working, generous, kind, and brilliant Coloradans. But they were also poor and brown and this meant our stories were only elevated within our communities. When I began writing seriously in my early twenties, I was reading books by James Baldwin, Sandra Cisneros, Edward P. Jones, and Katherine Anne Porter, and many, many others. I saw how these authors shined the spotlight on their people and I also wanted to write work that was incredibly sophisticated that honored my cultural group, making us more visible in the mainstream." - from the Pen America interview

Fajardo-Anstine brings a lot of her family’s history into this novel. Her great-aunt’s name is Lucy Lucero. In addition to the name of our protagonist, a second connection can be found in the name of the stream where Pidre is found, Lucero. An uncle was a snake charmer. An aunt worked in a Denver glass factory, as Luz’s aunt works in a mirror factory in the book. Her family had hidden from KKK, as characters do here. Her Belgian coal-miner father abandoned his family, as Luz and Diego’s father does here. 

There is a feel to the book of family stories being told around a table, or in a living room, by elders, passing on what they know to those most recently arrived. Remember these tales, the speaker might say, and in doing so remember where you came from, so you can better know who your people are and ultimately who you are.

"As they hopped and skipped in and out of the archway lights, Luz imagined she was jumping between times. She saw herself as a little girl in the Lost Territory with her mother and father walking through snow fields, carrying fresh laundry to the company cabin. Then she saw herself in Hornet Moon with Maria Josie, beside the window to her new city, those few photographs of her parents scattered about the floor, the only remnants of them she had left. She saw herself eating Cream of Wheat for breakfast with Diego in the white-walled kitchen. They were listening to the radio, the summertime heat blowing in from the windows, the mountains far away behind the screen."

The racism that Luz and other confront is not subtle. A public park features a sign

"NOTICE
This Park Belongs to WHITE PROTESTANTS
NO GOOKS
SPICS
NIGGERS
Allowed"

Luz is denied an opportunity to apply for a job because she is not white. A KKK march has a very pogrom-like, 1921-Tulsa-like feel. 

Luz gets a chance to see the range of crimes going on in the city, when she gets a particular job. Sees how the system that is supposed to protect regular folks does anything but. The murder of a Hispanic activist by the police is not just a historical image, but a resonant reminder of police killing of civilians in today’s world, usually with little accountability. The more things change…

There is a magical element in this novel, that, when combined with the multi-generational structure, and richness of language, and, of course, her focus on particular groups of people, makes one think of Louise Erdrich. As to the first, among others, Luz receives visions while reading tea leaves, and at other times as well. An ancestor speaks with the dead. A saintly personage associated with mortality appears in the flesh. People appear who may or may not be physically present. 

The ancestry begins with Pidre in 1868, but in his infancy we meet elders who reach back much further.

"The generation I knew in real life was born around 1912 and 1918. They would talk about the generation before—their parents, but also their grandparents. That meant I had firsthand knowledge spanning almost two hundred years. When I sat down to think about the novel and the world I was creating, I realized how far back in time I was able to touch just based on the oral tradition. My ancestors went from living a rural lifestyle—moving from town to town in mining camps, and before that living on pueblos and in villages—to being in the city, all within one generation. I found it fascinating that my great-grandma could have grown up with a dirt floor, not going to school, not being literate, and have a son graduate with his master’s degree from Colorado State University. To me, time was like space travel, and so when I decided on the confines of the novel, I knew it had to be the 1860s to 1930s." - from the Catapult interview

Luz is an appealing lead, smart, ambitious, mostly honorable, while beset by the slings and arrows of ethnic discrimination. Like Austen women, she is faced with a world in which, because of her class and ethnicity, making her own way in the world would be very tough without a husband. And, of course, the whole husband thing comes with its own baggage. Of course, the heart wants what it wants and she faces some challenges in how to handle what the world offers her. She does not always make the best choices, a flaw likely to endear her to readers even more than an antiseptic perfection might.

The supporting cast is dazzling, particularly for a book of very modest length (336p hardcover). From a kick-ass 19th century woman sharpshooter, to a civil rights lawyer with conflicting ambitions, from a gay mother-figure charged with raising children not her own to a successful Greek businessman, from Luz’s bff cuz to the men the two teens are drawn to, from an ancient seer to a corrupt politician, from…to…from…to… Fajardo-Astine gives us memorable characters, with color, texture, motivations, edges you can grab onto, elements to remember. It is an impressive group.

And the writing is beautiful. This is the opening:

"The night Fertudez Marisol Ortiz rode on horseback to the northern pueblo Pardona, a secluded and modest village, the sky was so filled with stars it seemed they hummed. Thinking this good luck, Fertudez didn’t cry as she left her newborn on the banks of an arroyo, turkey down wrapped around his body, a bear claw fastened to his chest.
“Remember your line,” she whispered, before she mounted her horse and galloped away.
In Pardona, Land of Early Sky, the elder Desiderya Lopez dreamt of stories in her sleep. The fireplace glowed in her clay home as she whistled snores through dirt walls, her breath dissipating into frozen night. She would have slept soundly until daybreak, but the old woman was pulled awake by the sounds of plodding hooves and chirping crickets, the crackling of burnt cedar, an interruption between dawn and day."

Really, after reading that, ya just have to keep on. One of the great strengths of this novel is its powerful use of imagery. There are many references to light, as one would expect. Water figures large, from Pidre’s introduction in the prologue, left by a stream, to our introduction to Luz and her aunt Maria Josie sitting together in Denver, near the banks where the creek and the river met, the city’s liquid center…, to a rescue from a flash flood, to an unborn buried near a river, and more. A bear-claw links generations. This makes for a very rich reading experience. 

I felt that the narrative fizzled toward the end, as if, having accomplished the goal of presenting a family and group history, filling a vacuum, there was less need to tidy everything up, a quibble, given that the novel accomplishes its larger aims. 

Kaji Fajardo-Astine’s 2019 short-story collection, Sabrina & Corina, made the finals for National Book Award consideration. You do not need to read tea leaves or have visions to see what lies ahead. Woman of Light, a first novel, illuminates that future quite clearly. By focusing a beacon on an under-told tale, Kaji Fajardo-Astine, is certain to have a brilliant career as one of our best novelists.

"Celia, Estevan’s sister. Luz listened and watched as she read her own words in her own voice. First in Spanish and then in English. The crowd moved with each syllable, cries of anguish. A lamp unto my feet, a woman yelled behind Luz. A light unto my path."

Review posted – June 17, 2022 

Publication date – June 7, 2022


For the full review, with links and EXTRA STUFF take a look on my site, CootsReviews.com - https://cootsreviews.com/2022/06/17/woman-of-light-by-kaji-fajardo-anstine/

I received a digital ARE of Woman of Light from One World in return for a fair review. Thanks, folks, and thanks to NetGalley for facilitating.
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