Cover Image: Woman of Light

Woman of Light

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Member Reviews

Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Random House, One World for accepting my request to read and review Woman of Light.  I sincerely wish the outcome was better.

Author:  Kali Fajardo-Anstine.  
Published:  06/07/22
Genre:  Fiction: Historical, literary, & Women's

Awkwardly, I am going on the record, historical fiction is my absolute favorite genre.  I was intrigued by five generations, Chicano Family in the American West, 1930s Denver.  I will admit I have picked up and loved HF books on less.  I found the prologue enticing.  Sadly, the story never gained a point of interest.  I was at part two and couldn't describe part one.  I started over with the basically the same outcome.  At part three, I threw in the towel.  

I believe this is written for someone else.  The book isn't bad, it just isn't interesting to me, and I can't connect.  I will remember the cover and that I had the book, and that's all.  I am going with 2.5 stars and rounding up to 3 factoring that I can watch a television commercial, enjoy it, and not be able to describe it 10 minutes later.
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Took a chance on this one as it is not something I would normally read and now I realize why. I could not get into the story and was just bored trying to read it. I guess that sometimes happens and it appears others have really enjoyed it so "to each his own".
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I was glad to have a chance to read this story about perseverance and hardships. A multigenerational story about  Indigenous -Chicano family is one not written about often. Sadly, I found  the magical realism not my genre.
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Loved this book, loved learning about a culture I know nothing about. The author's writing was so beautiful, and her characters were magnificent. This book is not lacking in any way, but I still wanted more, especially when it comes to Liz's grandparents' story.
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There is one every generation, a seer who keeps the stories.

Luz “Little Light” Lopez, a tea leaf reader and laundress, is left to fend for herself after her older brother, Diego, a snake charmer and factory worker, is run out of town by a violent white mob. 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. She bears witness to the sinister forces that have devastated her people and their homelands for generations. In the end, it is up to Luz to save her family stories from disappearing into oblivion.

Written in Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s singular voice, the wildly entertaining and complex lives of the Lopez family fill the pages of this multigenerational western saga. Woman of Light is a transfixing novel about survival, family secrets, and love—filled with an unforgettable cast of characters, all of whom are just as special, memorable, and complicated as our beloved heroine, Luz.
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I loved this novel. It took me much longer to read than I would normally spend on a book this length, but I realized that that was because I was savoring it. The prose is beautiful, and the story was so engaging. The descriptions took me there, and I quickly felt so connected to the characters and their stories. I also loved the way it was told, with the past pieces coming together toward the end to tell the story of this family and community. I can't wait to see what Kali Fajardo-Anstine writes next!
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Woman of Light is a wonderful, sprawling story that extends many decades and contains a multitude of a great characters. It’s massively entertaining and Kali Fajardo-Anstine, the author of the stunning story collection, Sabrina & Corina, is a substantial new talent and many readers will eagerly await what she’ll write next.
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DNF. I just could not get into this one. The writing style and jumping around to different characters made it hard for me to get into this. This style may appeal to a different reader. I listened to the audiobook which was well-narrated. Thank you to the publishers for providing this ARC.
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4 stars

I am grateful to the publisher Random House Publishing Group for sending me an advanced copy of this book for review.

This was a strong emotional story in a setting that I have not read before, but an atmosphere that is sadly familiar. This multigenerational family saga follows the women of one family and shows how their lives and decisions echo through the time and how the issues of racism and the subsequent segregation and further injustices affect the prospects of Native American people.

I thought the characters were really well done and they were all extremely interesting. I enjoyed exploring the familial relationships and the complexities that outside factors added to the bonds between these people. The characters being so well written also meant that the more harrowing scenes were impactful for me as a reader. I could feel the fear, the uneasiness, the longing, and the dissatisfaction that these characters were experiencing on every page.

I did have a bit of an issue with the pacing of this story. Since this story is split between multiple timelines following different generations of the same family, we get introduced to many characters and interesting plot lines. Although the present-day timeline was supposed to be the main focus, I was left feeling that not enough time was spent exploring some timelines versus others. But that is my only critique of this book, I felt like a bit of this story was missing and I wanted more from some of the past timelines.

I enjoyed the story overall. I thought it was well written, interesting, and emotional. I recommend this to fans of historical fiction, specifically American historical fiction that focuses on race relations.
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Representation: Indigenous Chicano MC and family

An epic telling the stories of five generations of an Indigenous Chicano family while they strive for life in the American West before and after the white man arrived. We mostly follow Luz “Little Light” Lopez, the seer of her generation. She reads tea leaves of people and does laundry, and lives with her aunt and brother. Her aunt works in a mirror factory, and her brother is also a factory worker alongside snake charming. Diego, her brother, gets run out of town by a violent and angry mob who think he did something he didn’t. Luz ends up having to navigate a lot of her life alone with how much her aunt is gone, and no one her age that really understands her. As she starts experiencing new things, she also starts getting visions of her ancestors and her Indigenous homeland. She sees all of the forces that have destroyed her homelands and oppressed her people for generations. Luz is the one who will have to carry her family stories and keep them from vanishing forever.

Rating: 4/5 While in the middle of reading this, I enjoyed it very much. Looking back, I don’t remember a lot of details except very random ones. I had to look through some reviews to remind myself of more details. I don’t know if this is because I’d read a lot of books around this time and didn’t let this story marinate in my mind enough or if it just didn’t stick. I did rate this four stars, so I certainly don’t think this is a bad book! What I can immediately think of and talk about: I wasn’t very pulled in by the romantic interests of Luz, because I just didn’t feel like either of them had any real potential. I really enjoyed the historical aspect of this, Luz’s time is set in 1930s Denver. There’s a lot about trade workers, how people got by in the Depression, racism, crime, and so much more. I absolutely suggest you go read other reviews of this book, because I’m not doing it justice.
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In her first novel, Fajardo-Anstine weaves a sparkling constellation of stories around her heroine, Luz Lopez, an Indigenous Chicano teenager with a rich ancestral heritage. Luz comes of age in 1930s Denver amid family and romantic intrigues and systemic discrimination. Just seventeen, she’s a tea-leaf reader and laundress for the city’s wealthy residents, working alongside her cousin Lizette. She and her brother Diego, a snake-charmer popular at the city’s outdoor festivals, have been raised by their aunt, Maria Josie, after their parents’ abandonment.

After Diego falls in love with an Anglo girl from a bigoted family and is forced to leave Denver, Luz misses him terribly. Her personality, which initially feels elusive, solidifies over the course of her transformational journey, in which she claims her place in a larger world that’s designed to exclude her. Though lacking formal education, Luz soaks up knowledge and has a talent for translation, or “moving words into words.”

The author creates evocative word-pictures, though the sections involving Luz tend to move slowly. Braided among them are mesmerizing tales involving Luz’s forebears in their homeland (the “Lost Territory”), whose lives she glimpses in visions. These include her entrepreneur grandfather, Pidre; his brave wife, Simodecea, a Mexican sharpshooter with a tragic backstory; and their daughters, Sara and Maria Josie, whose paths eventually diverge.

While scenes of Bonnie and Clyde—the familiar Depression-era outlaws—unfold in the background, Fajardo-Anstine creates a new Western lore, one involving a man’s dreams for a natural stone amphitheater, an elderly woman who “dreamt of stories in her sleep,” and a younger woman rising in power. Fajardo’s expansive vision of the West and its diverse, multilingual peoples is well worth experiencing, since it’s too rarely seen in fiction. Her novel is a triumphant reshaping of the Western narrative.
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2.5 - A slow-paced, character-driven story about an Indigenous Chicano family in Denver, mainly set during the 1930’s.
I can see the intention and care that went into the research and planning of this story.
But, it felt like many of the characters were loose sketches written to allow carefully-researched historical events play out, rather than people with agency and inner personalities driving them.
I couldn’t always understand why we were taken from one event to the next. The conflicts felt very surface level, and the larger plot didn’t really build to anything. I didn’t care for the romance plotlines (But I couldn’t tell if we were supposed to be into them? Like were Luz’s love interests just supposed to be bad??).
It seemed like Fajardo-Anstine set out to address many big topics with this book, but it was done without the depth I was hoping for. I loved Sabrina & Corina and will still plan to pick up her future books.

Listened to the audiobook - Audiobook & eARC gifted to me by the publisher/NetGalley/
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This was my first book by this author, It was pretty enjoyable. I would give this book a 3.5 star rating! It was a pretty Quick and easy read!
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I have to say this isn't the story I was expecting based on the blurb. The prologue was excellent! And really set my expectations even higher overall. It gave mystery, setting, prose everything. But was gone. We spend the rest of our time in 1930s Denver with all new characters and much less intrigue. The writing was beautiful throughout, though the pacing is slow. I wouldn't say this is a book you can't put down or can read in one sitting. It took me months to get through. I appreciate the perspectives we see and the details of the reality of indigenous persecution, and so many will love this story, but it fell short for me. 

**Thank you NetGalley and Random House for the eARC**
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Overall, I enjoyed this story, though there were modern phrases and words that pulled me out of the story, jarring me out of the era. There were times, too, that characters don't "operate at the top of their intelligence," as Daniel Joshua Rubin says.
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CW: Racism, Mentions of Lynching 

I received a reviewer copy of Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine from the publisher Random House from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

What It’s About: Luz is a tea leaf reader is left to navigate segregated 1930s Denver on her own when a white mob runs her brother out of town. We watch as Luz tries to build a world for herself, provide for her beloved aunt, work with her aunt, all the while having visions that bring her back to her ancestors origins in the Lost Territory.

What I Loved: I loved Sabrina & Corina, Fajardo-Anstine's short story collection, so I was thrilled when I received an advanced copy. The writing is incredible and Luz is a captivating character. I truly loved the present timeline (ie: the 1930's story). I loved the family saga aspect of this book. Luz's relationship with her aunt is really just really so well done, it is a quiet relationship of mutual respect and love, and powerful, you can feel their love. I also loved the friendship between Luz and her cousin Lizette. The family tale is compelling and the characters are so well woven that it is the definition of atmospheric character driven novel!

What I didn’t like so much: The ancestor timeline felt unfinished or unexplained fully. It seemed we were randomly poured there and it took awhile to get my bearings. I didn't love the men (love interests), but I think that was somewhat the point. 

Who Should Read It: People who love character driven novels. People who love stories with diverse characters. People who love family sagas. 

Summary: A powerful family saga set in the highly segregated 1930's Denver.
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Hailed by Emma Straub, Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Celeste Ng - Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine tells the story of Luz “Little Light” Lopez who is tested in ways she never thought possible. After being abandoned, she starts to have visions about her homeland and the ancestors that inhabited the Lost Territory. She recognizes how the Indigenous people have been mistreated and devastated over time and as a result, takes it upon herself to save the legacy of her people. 

Described as a “multigenerational western saga” - this novel tells the story of Luz and the amazing characters that make up her life, filled with survival, family, and love.
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Fajardo-Anstine’s new novel spans several decades as it follows a family who we first meet when a little baby is abandoned alongside a riverbank of the Lost Territory in 1860’s. A kindly woman who has the gift of “sight” rescues the child, calling him Pidre and raising him among her Mexican American tribe. Once he is old enough to leave, he heads toward Denver and meets a sharpshooter woman who becomes the star in his Western show.

Generations later, his granddaughter Luz reads tea leaves and has the sight, like the woman who raised Pidro. Her brother Diego is handsome and quite a ladies’ man. Unfortunately, has become involved with a white girl which almost costs him his life. There are obvious signs of prejudice against non-whites that causes problems for the Indians and Hispanics alike. These sentiments are pervasive in the early stories of Pidre and extend through the stories of his descendants.

The plot jumps around, back and forth in time, as the stories are told. It’s not hard to follow, but there could have been more development of some of the timelines that had rich substance and would be dramatically interesting to delve into more deeply. The settings of the Lost Territory and Denver are showcased at a time when the west was more primitive. The Mexican families and the Native Americans who lived there had long histories associated with the region, yet they are treated as “others” or outsiders.

We come to appreciate Fajardo-Anstine’s unique characters. Diego the snake charmer, his grandmother the sharpshooter, Luz the tea leaf reader and others are all striking and well-drawn. But it’s the family story that weaves these fascinating people into a tapestry that tells of the struggle to make a life despite open hostilities.
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Woman of Light swept me up in the generational stories, the history, and the characters. Unfortunately, once I finished the book, I wondered what the author’s purpose was for writing the book. There were many great themes woven throughout the story: family, social justice, coming-of-age, and love. However, I never felt that Fajardo-Anstine offered any insight past the surface of these themes. Nor did the younger generation of characters (Luz, Diego, Avel, or David) grow or evolve. Everything remained stagnant for them—perhaps that was intentional? 

Our main character, Luz, reads tea leaves and has visions. While I loved this part of Luz, her clairvoyance did not play a necessary role in the story. It could have been left out and the story would not have changed, which is unfortunate since this was a beautiful way to convey how stories can bring greater understanding and compassion. Much of the book felt jumbled and without direction. I thought it was heading toward a critique on the justice systems, with David and Luz fighting for human rights, but that is not what happened. 

I loved how Fajardo-Anstine told the story of Luz’s ancestors. I would have liked to have seen more connections between the past and present. 

There were many wonderful characters, including Maria Josie, Lizette, and Simodecea. They were tough, intelligent, and caring women. Other characters, such as David, were hard to puzzle out. His behavior and profession never seemed to align for me. The final straw was when David took Luz to that awful dinner. David was supposedly for the rights of the people, yet never stood up to defend Luz. 

Woman of Light had so much potential and was informative about the history of the people of the West. Unfortunately, it needed more direction and character growth.
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We promoted this as our store's first book club selection, and I'm so glad we did. It was a gorgeous story of late 19th century-mid 1930s Denver--a story that needed to be told, and specifically required the voice and perspective of Fajardo-Anstine. It was wrenching in its portrayals of the violence inflicted by white colonizers to sacred and long-settled land. Its exploration of the bonds of family, the power of place, and the precarity of poverty left me deeply invested in Luz, our protagonist, and her family. 

Throughout the novel, I was struck by the power of who tells our stories, who keeps our records and builds our archives, and was both moved by the inclusion of Fajardo-Anstine's story into the record via its publication and struck by the myriad stories missing from our libraries and archives. I had the privilege of watching Fajardo-Anstine in conversation with Roxane Gay for the Audacious Bookclub, and Fajardo-Anstine spoke to these missing written stories, the power of oral histories and the task of translating oral tradition to the written word. The author was confronted with the incompleteness of archives, and the gatekeeping done in documenting history by those who want to preserve only the stories favorable to whiteness. This book emerges from her family's history, and despite attempts at burying these stories. I'm so grateful that Fajardo-Anstine brought it into existence.
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