Cover Image: Woman of Light

Woman of Light

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Member Reviews

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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This book reminded me of why I love the Historical Fiction genre. This multigenerational story spans five generations and is written so well, I loved reading every bit of it. I was listening along with the audio and reading at the same time, something I rarely do, and I felt that the immersive reading experience made me love the book even more.  I felt that each character was written so well and their personalities really shined throughout the book. Each generation of woman in the family passed down their legacy and I could feel like impact of the previous generations while reading. Luz was an interesting main character. She is a strong character coming of age in Depression era Colorado and I found her story to be very compelling. While I liked Luz, I found myself more drawn to the stories of the women who came before her. From Maria Josie to Simodecea, each woman brings such a unique personality and backstory to the book. Their stories had a level of boldness that I found so interesting to read about.

I really liked the addition of magic in the story. The magical realism is woven into the story so well and I really enjoyed those parts of the book. Fajardo-Anstine's writing style really stole the show for me with this book. Each paragraph was written so beautifully, I felt like I was there while reading. In that sense, this book is a very atmospheric read. While this book is relatively short, it certainly packs a punch and is a memorable book. I am looking forward to reading more from Fajardo-Anstine and know I need to read Sabrina and Corina, her previous collection of short stories soon!
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Fajardo-Anstine can write like few others. Reading Woman of Light felt like getting lost in a dream of words. I was utterly captivated the entire time, and I will be reading her other works ASAP.
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I love the fact that this book is based in Denver, Colorado. I can see where they are because I live here. I’ve never been able to experience that before and I hope I get to again! With that being said, I have stopped reading this book at 49% because I find myself only continuing with this book for the sole purpose of Denver. There’s nothing else that’s grasping my attention. No suspense. Nothing thrilling or romantic. If feel at the halfway point of a book, there should be more than one reason to want to keep reading. I am finding none. So I have DNF’d this book.
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This was an engrossing story, the writing is lyrical and you are drawn into the complexity of the characters as much by what they reveal, as by what they don't.  I found it hard to put down.  I connected with the characters and enjoyed the strength and determination that was evident throughout, by more than just a few of them.  There are hardships, discrimination, and things that are overcome that are things people are still encountering and overcoming today.  

I would absolutely recommend this book, and will read more from this author in the future.  I appreciate the opportunity to read and review by the publisher.
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Thank you for the opportunity to read this novel. I had trouble getting into it and did not finish. I won't be leaving a full review.
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What a wonderful historical fiction novel! I love learning about new cultures and different time period.s. The story of Luz and her ancestors was fascinating. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the advanced copy.
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Woman of Light is a historical fiction multi-generational novel of a group of Chicano Women in 1930s Denver, Colorado and prior years in The Lost Territory. Part coming-of-age, part love story, I loved following Luz "little light" Lopez's story. The story of her family lineage was full bodied, atmospheric and full of strong female protagonists, as well as topical themes. Not only this a story of the Lopez women, but also of the hate and discrimination Latinx folks faced in the early 1900s. Luz feared for her brother's life after he was run out of town because he was associating with a white girl. Luz works as a receptionist at a law firm by a fellow Greek immigrant who takes on a high-profile case involving the murder of a young Latinx boy at the hands of white supremacists. The story was completely engrossing.

Very well written!
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One of my favorite books of the year! I will read anything Kali Fajardo-Anstine writes but WOMAN OF LIGHT is a masterpiece. Fajardo-Anstine has a way of writing settings in such stunning detail that it feels like I'm there. These characters felt like family (even better knowing they were inspired by her own relatives!). What a triumph.
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This took me a month to read....but I'm still glad I read it. 

Woman of Light is a beautifully written novel about a Mexican-American family over three generations. I found myself lost a lot because it wasn't told in a linear timeline and over multiple generations. This caused me to read it super slowly, which only made me forget what was going on... which added to the cycle.

I still recommend this book as Kali Fajardo=Anstine can WRITE a story. But save it for when you're looking for a beautiful character driven novel. 

Thank you NetGalley and Random House, One World for the galley.
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Beautifully written story of one family's struggle and love through multiple timelines.  Luz has the gift of sight through reading tea leaves, she sees danger with her family and also seen what happen in her family history.  Can she save her family for what is coming next? A great coming of age story of wanting to be loved but also be her own women, 

She realizes what she wants and what the world around her does not want to diversify. Her brother Diego is forced to leave his family to protect them.  "Diego said, "Our people never been this far north before, where I am headed." "Maybe you'll like it better" "Shit, I still miss the Lost Territory. That's our home. Everything else is edges."

This book kept me engaged with wonderful story telling, I felt like I was there with Luz and her family. I was sad when the story ended, I wanted more from this family.  Can't wait to read more from this author.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random house for gifting me this book for my honest review.
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