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Woman of Light

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Member Reviews

Woman of Light is the historical fiction, multigenerational saga that we all need. Similar to her previous book, Sabrina & Corina, Fajardo-Anstine’s manages to transport readers to a very specific time and place, the American West. She does this through storytelling, where she centers the voices and experiences of Indigenous Chicano and Latinx characters.

This book has tea leaf readers, snake charmers, romance, and heartache, as well as themes of race, class, gender, sexuality, and generational trauma. This reads like a movie, with each storyline/character unfolding before your eyes. My only complaint is that I wanted more at the end. I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to the characters and I wanted to know more about Liz’s future, as well as her family’s past.

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✨ Review ✨ Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

I went into this a little nervous -- "multigenerational western saga" can go either way right? I'm so glad I picked it up though - this was an absolutely incredible fictional reflection on race, space, and place in Denver and in the Lost Territory (a fictional place in the US West / borderlands that the author made up to have some more leeway in her writing).

The story centers on Luz, a teenage fortune-teller (tea leaves) and laundry worker, in 1930s Denver, as well as the backstory of generations of her family making their way through the Lost Territory that Luz begins to see through her visions. This shows the messiness of race and identity in a place over generations as this Indigenous Chicano family fights to protect family, to find love, and to celebrate their ideas of home.

My specialization for my PhD was the history of the US West and so many pieces of what I love about that field came together here -- the messiness of racial identity and boundaries, the consequences of urban growth, the centrality of place, mixed with just a bit of the mythic west through Luz's ancestors.

I admit this was a little more challenging via audiobook because of the jumps between timelines, but still very doable. There were a few things about the storyline that could have been a bit clearer, but otherwise I absolutely loved this book. The way that it centered storytelling and home as a place were really beautiful and I hope you love it too!

Genre: historical fiction with a bit of magical realism
Location: Colorado and the Lost Territory
Reminds me of: The Divine Inheritance of Orquídea Divina (but with less magic)
Pub Date: June 7, 2022

Thanks to Random House, One World and #netgalley for an e-copy of this book!

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Without question, I'll bring WOMAN OF LIGHT by Kali Fajardo-Anstine to my creative writing students. I already use a few of her short stories, so many of my students are somewhat familiar with her work. WOMAN OF LIGHT is a fantastic example of how you can find inspiration in where you are rooted, both by family and place. Having read several interviews with Fajardo-Anstine, it's clear how her ancestry and family lives through her writing, which is an especially important idea to share with students of marginalized identities. In terms of the story of WOMAN OF LIGHT, the concept is excellent and the imagery is vibrant; however, the characters were not as gripping as I'd hoped. Somehow, the emotional connection I thought I would have didn't emerge. Still, I look forward to sharing this with my advanced students in the fall.

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Woman of Light is a multi-generational story spanning five generations of a Chicano family living in the American Southwest. The protagonist is Luz Lopez, a teenager living in 19302 Denver with her Tia Maria Josie and her brother Diego. Diego is a successful snake charmer, but after being attacked by a white mob, he is forced to leave their home to keep his family safe.
Luz has the gift of sight as several of her ancestors did and earns money by reading tea leaves. Throughout the book, we witness Luz’s gift evolve and develop, revealing more about her family’s past via visions. Luz is an easily loveable character, displaying the perfect mix of naivete, wisdom, and courage and the love she has for her family (and that her family has for her) is inspiring. I enjoyed the other characters as well, especially Lizette (Luz's cousin) and Diego.
I really enjoyed this book and honestly was hooked from the beginning (this is not a slow burn). As a born and raised New Englander, my knowledge of the regional history of the American Southwest is minimal at best. That being said, the pervasive theme in this book of racist oppression is unfortunately not unique to the Southwest. And while we’re on the topic of content warnings, violence and white supremacy are also present in the book (the violence described is pretty graphic).
I really liked the infusion of culture through the use of Spanish words, mention of traditional foods, and dress found throughout the book. I had to look quite a few of these words and foods up to better picture the scene, but this did not detract from my enjoyment at all. The use of Luz’s gift of reading tea leaves to illustrate the history of her family going back several generations was very skillfully done and very entertaining to read.
My only critique of this book was how abruptly it seemed to end. Everything came to a head in one of the final chapters and the story ended but there still was much to be resolved in my opinion and it left me with a lot of questions. (but maybe this is just me wanting a happily ever after unrealistically as many of the big issues raised in the book are still ongoing today).
Read this one if you:
-Like multigenerational sagas
-Are interested in learning about Chicano culture
-Enjoy historical fiction

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Beautifully written but difficult to follow, WOMAN OF LIGHT is best enjoyed as a remarkably written series of exquisite scenes that paint powerful pictures of life for Indigenous Peoples moving from their Lost Territory through Denver. Author Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a gifted writer able to transcend generational tales and bring them to readers, boldly and once again alive. I had difficulty following the larger tale but was drawn to the smaller scenes. This is a compelling book. I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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There is something magnificent when you are held by a work of fiction. It is hard to describe this feeling perfectly, but perhaps it is a twofold proposition. First, the story itself is gripping. You turn the pages eagerly. You want to know what happens as you imagine the action unfolding with a cinematic flair. Second, however, when the writer itself is deft and can cradle you with her words, to make you feel a full gamut of emotions, you know you have found something special.

And that is exactly what is happening with this outstanding offering of sizzling fiction from Kali Fajardo-Anstine, one that deserves all the accolades. "Woman of Light" is scorching, a magnum opus of pitch-perfect tension but also quiet dignity. The characters are potent but delicate, ones that leap off the page and into your soul. Further, from the opening sentences, you are immersed in the Colorado panoramas of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And I just reveled in the atmosphere, both in its rural and urban splendor. Consider this excerpt:

"The mountains were permanent yet shifting, ancient though young, their white peaks reminding Luz of gray hairs while their aspen groves resembled veins. Luz felt partly made of mountains, as if the land was family. But the city was different. Smog and concrete. Morning light spilling between stone squeezes, landing on the worn hoods of Model Ts resting on Curtis Street. In the evenings, the sun slipped behind the mountains, sinking away with long tentacles of light reaching over the brickwork city for another chance at brilliance."

Lines like that make a reader stagger in awe. The gems are innumerable here, as incandescent as a western skyline. I do not quite know how Fajardo-Anstine birthed this magnetic writing into existence, but we are all the more enriched by it.

This is a work of historical fiction, a genre I adore. But this is more than that. These characters didn't just live in the past. They were alive, and my own room was bathed in light when I opened the pages. There is also a fierce urgency here, which might sound odd to articulate, but these are stories that deserve to be told. This is a celebration of culture, stories that are not just printed on the page but soar into your world, piercing your heart and lingering there.

The family dynamics here are also imbued with a lively warmth, from the reflective prescience of Luz, our title character, to her feisty cousin Lizette and her attentive aunt Maria Josie. Their family tree is also explored in intricate detail, including one ancestor who "had become a divine reflex fueled only by fury and heartache" (what a line). Matters of justice are sharp and searing, home even in today's landscape. Consider the following plea:

"This could be your loss. But it's not. It's mine, and you might think you're lucky, but for every lucky person, unluckiness arrives. Our existence shouldn't depend on luck. It should depend on justice, what is good, what is right."

Yes, there is injustice in this book. The author won't let you look away. But these are necessary chronicles, ones in which you can feel the writer reach out through the page, as if she is saying: "Listen to these stories. They need to be shared, especially today." To have Fajardo-Anstine weave this tapestry of a multigenerational Indigenous Chicano family is a tour de force, and we can only hope that we have the sensibility to marvel in it.

In short, this is a beautiful saga that illuminates our world. What the author began in "Sabrina and Corina" continues on full display here, with even more interconnected wonder. I could not give "Woman of Light" a more robust recommendation, and I think I've found my next must-buy author. What an absolute, unforgettable masterpiece. May we all be touched by its radiant glow.

The heartiest of thanks to Random House for this ARC!

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Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and the author, for an ARC of this book, in exchange for an honest review.
The premise of the book drew me in but once I started reading it, I just couldn’t get into it at all.
I wish the author, publisher and all those promoting the book much success and connections with the right readers.

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Interesting book. About a chicano family trying to make it in Denver. For several generations, they deal with discrimination, poverty, and inclusion issues. Story line is not new, of course, but the author does a good job on character development. Parts of the book are hard to follow because the story line keeps going back and forth. I enjoyed the book.

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Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine is the story of an Indigenous Chicano family set between the late 1800s to the 1900s. The struggles and successes of over five generations.

It all starts with the Sleepy Prophet and the Child from Nowhere. Desiderya Lopez found an abandoned baby in the forest. She named him Pidre. Right before Desiderya died she told him about his future.

Pidre would marry and have two daughters. The sisters would have many struggles. Marie Josie would suffer a miscarriage and be poor. Sara would give birth to Diego and Luz. After Sara's husband abandons his family, Diego and Luz would live with their aunt.

As the story unfolds, the past, present, and future are one. Luz is a seer like the Sleepy Prophet. She reads tea leaves and has heightened senses. Knowing things doesn't stop them from happening.

There's lust, love, family, and tragedy. Learn about the Women of the Light.

I enjoyed this read. I haven't read a story about an Indigenous Chicano family. It's nice to hear from their point of view.

I can't say much about the book. It's about peoples' lives. There's no way to critique a life. It is what it is even if it's fiction. The writing, pace, and all of the technical aspects are spot on. I can't wait for more stories!

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This book starts out with a bang the prologue draws you and I was really looking forward to seeing where the story would go. Unfortunately not a lot happened and while the writing was lovely it was hard for me to stay focused on the story because it often seemed like it was just a description of a persons life without a clear plot. I think I am used to a quicker pace and probably just not the right audience. Because I was never fully engaged I kept picking the book up and then putting it down for a week or more so often had to try to remember where I left off, I am sure this didn't help.

I probably would have decided I wasn't the right audience for this and DNF but this but received an ARC from NetGalley and felt I should give it my all. Hopefully nothing I have said will put people the right readers off because I think the writing is good just not for me.

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Thank you One World and Net Galley for making this ARC available to me.

I had been eager to read Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut novel after I heard Emma Straub recommend it during an on-line interview. The story opens like a fairy tale when an infant is abandoned on the doorstep of an elderly woman, Desiderya Lopez, known as the Sleepy Prophet. When the child, Pidre Lopez, grows up, he leaves the Land of Early Sky to make his way as a businessman in the white world. From this mythical beginning, readers are transported to 1930’s Denver, Colorado where we are introduced to Luz “Little Light” Lopez, a laundry girl and tea leaf reader, and her older brother, Diego, a factory worker and snake charmer.

Luz and Diego live with their maternal aunt, Marie Louise, and navigate the racism that pervades their community. Fajardo-Anstine details how Mexican men, even those who were born in the United States, were deported to make room for white men without jobs, how Anglo neighborhoods were home to Klan marches and cross burnings, and how park rangers would run off Chicano families who stayed too near the picnic tables at the local park.

The novel flags a bit after Diego is driven out of town by an angry mob of white men and Luz goes to work for David Tika, an Ivy-league educated civil rights lawyer who fights for fair wages and affordable rent. It then picks up again when Fajardo-Anstine reveals Marie Jose’s backstory and circles back to Pidre, exposing his connection to Luz and Diego.

Fajardo-Anstine has said that she used her family’s tales to write this novel and she conducted extensive research. She presents a fresh migration story that focuses on the place of Indigenous Chicanas in the history of the American West. By focusing her novel on these Latinx women, showcasing their strength and resilience, she provides her ancestors with a form of social justice.

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I normally live a multigenerational saga but I just couldn’t get there with this book, sadly. Maybe it’s because I have a young toddler and couldn’t dedicate the long, interrupted stretches needed to really connect with it? Beautifully written and I’m grateful to the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read it in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Big Thank You to Random House Publishing for providing me with an early copy of a highly anticipated novel Woman of Light.

Unfortunately, I will not be continuing on with this novel. I have been at 11% for the past 6 days and cannot make it through.
It isn’t the novel for me, but I know many people love/will love it once it is out on 6/7.

I will not be posting any review on any platform as I did not read past 50%.

Thank you again.

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*Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. Pub date: June 7, 2022

An enthralling multi-generational tale of one Indigenous Chicano family in the west that unfolds poetically between the 1890s and 1930s. This gives you a glimpse into the lives of these characters but unfortunately left me wanting much more and asking why, feeling as each persons story was left open ended and unresolved. This was beautifully written but there were a few times where the language felt oddly current instead of appropriate for the historical time period. Definitely worth a read for any fan of historical fiction—the author vividly brought scenes of this time to life.

“They’re men, white men.” ... “That’s what they do.” A line relevant over 100 years ago unfortunately still rings true today.

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When an author chooses an epigraph, they are giving the reader a peek into the heart of the story, offering someone else’s words as a hint at what’s to come in their own. National Book Award finalist Kali Fajardo-Anstine has chosen two passages to open her novel Woman of Light: one from an Ingmar Bergman film and the other taken from a statue at the National Archives: “What is past is prologue.” This line, a phrase inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, seems a simple truth for a piece of historical fiction, a story that insists that the narratives of older generations have relevance to those who come after. But Woman of Light rejects such simplicity, asking readers to consider the ways the past might move through and around each generation, emerging into the present in complicated ways.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the book opens with a prologue, set in The Lost Territory in 1868. This geographical name may not be familiar; in fact, a search on the term produces results about the colonization of Thailand and nothing on the huge swaths of Mexico gained by the United States following the Mexican-American War. In the opening pages, Fajardo-Anstine introduces the oldest generations of this family saga: the Sleepy Prophet of Pardona Pueblo and the infant abandoned on the bank of the arroyo.

Desiderya, the Sleepy Prophet, had “dreamt of stories in her sleep,” but was called from her bed to that arroyo, where she stood, “smoking her pipe and considering the sloping way blue darkness layered the nearby mountains.” The description goes on, “The Spanish had named the stream Lucero because starlight shimmered over the water’s trickling back, as if the earth had been saddled with sky.” Fajardo-Anstine writes effortlessly stunning sentences, each unspooling to create a rich and engrossing tableau. In fact, Woman of Light is much like the visions Desiderya experiences, plunging readers into an unfamiliar past, one that seems to hold vital truths if only we will see them.

The child Desiderya rescues is Pidre, later to marry the widowed sharpshooter Simodecea Salazar-Smith (years after a tragic accident during their act caused her to shoot her beloved husband). Their love produces Sara and Maria Josefina – one the mother of Luz and Diego, the other the woman who would raise them. Luz is the shining heart of the novel, so much more than “just some poor Indian and Spanish laundry girl.” She, too, is a seer, able to see both the future and the past in sharp, sometimes painful detail. After their abusive father leaves and Sara loses herself in grief, Maria Josie brings the children to Denver, and as each section unfolds, readers will float between time and place, every character fully alive in the present and the past.

Following an ill-advised relationship with an Anglo woman, Diego is forced to flee Denver, leaving behind his family and his work as a snake-handler. The snakes, whose “tips hissed like tin cans of pebbles,” can’t accompany him on the migrant circuit, where “every hello possessed within itself a farewell. People were as transient as crops, picked and packaged, shipped afar, feeding the mouths of families Diego would never see.” In his absence, Luz works as a secretary for David, son of the generous Greek grocer in their neighborhood, who has come back home to practice law and fight for social justice. Through her relationships with David and the gentle musician Avel, Luz is forced to reckon with her warring desires and the complicated role of race and class.

With any multi-generational narrative, it is impossible to summarize the complex layers of detail woven by the author. This book is about Luz and Diego and Denver and the Lost Territory; ultimately, though, it is about stories - who gets to tell them and which ones survive. Pidre understands this after leaving the Lost Territory and stumbling into the entertainment industry:
"he had entered the strange world of Anglo myth, characters resurrected from the language of story, populating the realm of the living, side by side, if only for one night and one night only. Pidre came from storytelling people, but as he passed a big top devoted to the reenactment of Custer’s Last Stand, he couldn’t help but think that Anglos were perhaps the most dangerous storytellers of all – for they believed only their own words, and they allowed their stories to trample the truths of nearly every other man on Earth."

Woman of Light proves the past is the prologue, insisting we map the Lost Territory onto our stories even when search engines don’t recognize the term. It is a sprawling and gorgeous exploration of the land we have come from, the past we have failed to acknowledge, and the persistence of stories through time and space.

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This book was MAGICAL!!!! It’s a multigenerational, historical read set between the 1890’s and the 1930’s. This book is both inspirational and heartfelt. We go back and forth between generations starting from the beginning of the Lopez family, a mixed Chicano/indigenous family. We have the most powerful of the characters who is a young woman by the name of Luz, who has a special gift, and as things are going crazy around her, mainly like corruption when it comes to the unfair treatment of POV and the rise of the KKK, her abilities are starting to become stronger. Luz goes from being a reader of leaves, to having vivid dreams of her lineage, people she had never met before, and very sad visions of her family now, and all the sacrifices her aunt had made for her and her brother. So much goes on and this book had me hooked from beginning to end, it was perfection.

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I enjoyed this story. This is my first book by this author and I look forward to see what is next for them. I enjoyed how the author's attention to details not only brought life to the story but also made me feel as if I was right there with the characters. This is a well written story about family, secrets, lies and love. It is a fast paced story that has characters that you won't soon forget. They are strong, supportive, connectable characters. I enjoyed what they brought to the story. They had me coming back for more. I also enjoyed the growth of the characters as well as the plot which made the story easy and entertaining to read. This is a story you don't want to miss. I highly recommend this book.

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A multigenerational story told through a nonlinear timeline and follows five generations of an Indigenous Chicano family. Mainly set in the early 20th century, Kali-Fajardo Anstine created a unique atmosphere in a time period I don’t think many writers have chosen to write about in this light.

Having read Sabrina & Corina a while back, I knew the writing here would not be disappointment. It sucked me right in and I devoured it, hence how I finished it in a day. The author truly creates scenes well, they were vivid in my mind and for me, flowed smoothly; not purple at all. My favorite aspect of this book. Second would be the themes. This tackles racism, police brutality, and gun violence to name a few. Considering the time period - which depending on the chapter you’re on - could be a hundred years ago or close to it, just shows how not much has changed at all. The book was open-ended which I thought was fitting since the problems highlighted don’t have a resolution at present (not yet anyway).

On the other hand, what stopped me from giving this a higher rating was the lack of a plot. It felt more like a day in the life of the characters; the characters I didn’t feel connected to, despite how well-written they were they still lacked something. I’m leaning towards character development but it’s not just that, I can’t really pinpoint it. Luz, as the central character, was hard to get behind. I didn’t understand the reason behind her actions most of the time. The magical realism was also not very fleshed out in my opinion, and wasn’t a very big part of events either way but more emphasis on the significance of “the sight” would have been a welcome addition.

I liked this, although I wouldn’t call it memorable exactly. I’d recommend to those who love historical fiction, won’t mind slow pacing, and messy family ties.

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I just couldn’t keep the different storylines straight. I read the prologue and first few chapters over and over and I just gave up. It is beautifully written but I got lost.

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Thank you Netgalley & publisher for this e arc of Woman of Light by Woman of Light.
This is a historical fiction novel. 4-4.5*.
Synopsis: "There is one every generation, a seer who keeps the stories."; As Luz navigates 1930s Denver, she begins to have visions that transport her to her Indigenous homeland in the nearby Lost Territory. Luz recollects her ancestors' origins, how her family flourished, and how they were threatened. Written in one voice, a multigenerational western saga; survival, family secrets, betrayal, and love..."
3 things I liked:
1. I love a good western and this was one of my first with an Indigenous MC
2. I love a good family saga, especially with strong women
3. I loved the MC, Luz and her Aunt the most; the leaf reader aspect for Luz was interesting. I liked her brother and several male characters; although the snake element was terrifying (I have questions).
3 things I disliked or was neutral on:
1. This is a slower read, you can't rush it if you want to soak up the novel (I did not really mind-I was in the mood for a slow saga, but just make sure you are not in a hurry)
2. A lot of things happened, but it was just a lot of short stories vs a significant event
3. I can't say I loved the end. I did not like or dislike it.
I was glad to read this one. I recommend it to anyone that likes a HF multi-generational saga with a western setting.

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