Cover Image: Woman of Light

Woman of Light

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Member Reviews

"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."
"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

This Park Belongs to WHITE PROTESTANTS

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, -

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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I read an advanced copy of Woman of Light and thank the publisher and NetGalley by giving this honest review.  

Woman of Light was not a fast read, but more than made up for that by the exquisite use of words.  This historical fiction book has so much to offer about generations of Chicano women, their life, poverty, racism and love of family.  I do hope that Kali Fajardo-Anstine will write again.
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Woman of Light “spans five generations of an Indigenous Chicano family in the American West” and I recommend this novel to lovers of historical fiction and indigenous stories. 

The setting of Denver and its surrounding areas especially appealed to me, as I have not read historical fiction specifically set in Colorado, a favorite destination.

Woman of Light opens in the late 1800s and moves between timelines including the influx of miners to the area and, later, urban life in the 1930s. I found the various lineages interesting as our main character’s past is traced back to ancestors from a variety of cultures. The novel explores the past, destiny, race, gender, sexuality, independence, poverty, family, friendship, and more. The racial tensions and dynamics between a range of cultures living in Denver was a highlight of the novel, while Luz’s story also serves as a coming-of-age story against this backdrop. 

Reviews posted on Goodreads Michelle Beginandendwithbooks and IG and FB @beginandendwithbooks
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Thank you to One World for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Fajardo-Anstine has created such a beautiful story with this book. The story is expertly woven throughout time and family members. You see the family's origin story, all the way up through three generations. It shifts timelines and POVs expertly. The characters are unique and complex, and you see how their family history has shaped them. This book also examines some difficult parts of history including the oil & gas industry taking over Indigenous land in the Southwest and racism against Hispanics and Indigenous people in Denver in the 1930s. 

This is definitely a story you'll want to pick up this year.
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This is a book about Denver Colorado, about the lives and histories of  the Hispanic and indigenous people in the  early to mid-1900s and the injustices done to them -  a story with lots of stories. The main protagonist Luz, the Woman of Light has the power to read tea leaves and make predictions.  She experiences visions about the past and future of her family and friends.  The story spans multiple generations of Luz's family and portrays their resilience and grit in their fight to survive and protect their families.  Some of the instances of racial discrimination resonate even in the present. The author has done a decent job of touching upon the significant historical events and culture of the time.   I would have preferred the characters to have more depth though.  I felt the story ended abruptly,  I would have liked to know what happens further with Luz, her brother Diego, her cousin Lizette and her two love interests David and Avel.  It was overall an OK read.
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I did not finish this book, I don’t know what it is but I couldn’t get into this book. Wasn’t for me.
Thank you to netgalley for giving me the chance to try it.
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Special thanks to Random house publishing, Random House and NetGalley for  the ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

What a wonderful book. Little Luz, the tea reader and her older brother, the snake charmer, of the Luz family. Indigenous people. The story takes place in. the 20's and 30's here so there is a lot of strife and a lot of struggle for these people, all trying to stay together and survive. 

I really loved Luz,. She was a little cute thing but as she grows older and moves away,  she wants to go back and find family and unity and how they survived in the 20's and 30's where there is never too much hope.. This is how we should behave today with light (Luz in Spanish) and love and sticking  together through love and togetherness.. Beautifully written, although I go for a bit darker stories, this author Kali canard on and time writes beautifully. 3.5-rounded to a 4 because this little and through  the years, big girl,, stole my heart with her beautiful voice.
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I definitely did not have the same reaction to this book as so many other readers. I really wanted to like it, especially after reading the prologue, but then it felt like a different book. Fajardo-Anstine's writing is beautiful, but this was a little bit of a letdown from my expectations. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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A sweeping multigenerational story- you don't really know HOW the timelines are related although astute readers will guess. The characters were well-formed and the book tackled some difficult topics with grace. 

I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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This was a beautifully written novel and wonderfully descriptive, and one that kept me engrossed throughout.
It tells a story of a Mexican American family over generations, but the story mainly takes place in Denver , Colorado in the 1930's where we witness, prejudice and violence against the Mexicans, and Native Americans. This was a theme throughout the book,and it looks like history hasn't changed much now in present day. This part of the story saddened me as it never really showed people of different ethnicity ever really getting along.
The characters are wonderful, each bringing a little bit of something different to the story, yet all with the same goal of making family number one in their lives, a keeping their history alive.
I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for a copy of this book.
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I feel torn on this one. The writing was at times beautiful and poetic, at other times confusing and choppy. This was a slow moving story that had aspects that were really engaging. Overall, not my favorite, but an interesting tale.
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A multigenerational drama with an interesting cast of characters. The prologue was so strong but I found myself wanting that same intensity for the rest of the book. The pacing was slower than I’d expected, and I’d wanted more to happen in the book overall. 

I learned a lot from the book from a historical perspective. I haven’t read much about 1930s in the West, and from a Chicano/Indigenous perspective. That alone made it worth reading.

Thank you to NetGalley for an eARC widget.
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Woman of Light tells us the story of several generations of a family living in the American West in the early 1900's. They have indigenous and Mexican roots and therefore are considered less than. At every turn, in every generation we see the limitations of their lives and what they are able to do and achieve, who they are able to love and how easily they are taken advantage of and abused. We get three stories, the most modern of which centers upon Luz and Diego living in the 1930's - they are both trying to advance themselves and are continually knocked down by the world. But they are also quite short-sighted at the sacrifices and pain their aunt, parents and grandparents had to endure to give them the chances they have. Slowly through alternating chapters we learn more about this family and the generational pain and repeated ways they were taken advantage of.

I love a multi-generational story as well as early American life stories. I am grateful to hear / read one focused on the marginalized, the cultures whose stories were previously told by the white majority and therefore were portrayed as villains or lazy. This story tells you the truth, the ease with which these hardworking people who dreamed of more, were constantly held back. That treatment, the violence and insults are not easy to read, but important to acknowledge and experience.

I alternated listening to this one via ALC thanks to Libro.FM and reading it via the generosity of the publisher via Netgalley. The narrator was fabulous in the audio version. I ultimately went on to purchase a copy of the novel. All opinions above are my own.
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Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a fantastic writer. This story blew me away and I could not say enough good things about it. The writing was beautiful and it stayed with me even after I finished it. I cannot wait to recommend this book to everyone.
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I really liked the characters in this book but had some issues with a lot of the book as well. See below for the synopsis:

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 1930's Denver on her own, 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.

My main gripe was how character driven this novel was. If you asked me what the plot of this novel is, I honestly would not know how to answer that. There wasn't much plot-wise that kept me wanting to read more. The characters were lovable, however I wish that we would have gone more in depth about some of the side characters such as Maria Josie and Lizette. I did very much enjoy the writing, time period, and atmosphere of the book so 3 stars it is!
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I had such high hopes for this after reading Sabrina & Corina and loving it so much. 

Alas, I just couldn't get into this, tried and tried but it did not hold my attention. Probably me and the current state of my reading life and not the fault of the novel.
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This was such a beautiful story from start to finish. It’s a touch of magic, mixed with folklore, and historical fiction. I loved the history aspect of it, and learned something new. The characters are engaging and well written. The story flowed beautifully and I was sad when it was over. I highly recommend this for anyone! 

Thank you to the publisher, author, and to Netgalley for this arc in exchange for my honest review!
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The writing in this book was captivating, and the characters interesting. I felt like i knew every character pretty well, except Luz. I am not sure exactly why, but she seemed distant from everything. The overall story was interesting but i was puzzled by some of the little plot points that didn’t seem to have a point, like when Diego journeys to return to Denver and sleeps with two random women. I enjoyed passages of the book but it didn’t suck me in.
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Woman of Light is a beautifully written book. I love books with a strong sense of place and time, and Fajardo-Anstine's descriptive writing is as good as it gets. I felt transported to early 20th century Denver. There isn't a lot of historical fiction set in Colorado and New Mexico, and I found myself repeatedly visiting the web to read up on events the author includes. I had no idea, for example, the extent of the Klan's dominance over Denver's politics. 

If you prefer a linear narrative and strong plotting, this may not; however, be "your" book. Fajardo-Anstine is best known for her short stories, and her competence in writing this genre permeates Woman of Light. That said, the chapters in this book sometimes feel more like loosely connected short stories. The primary narrative focussing on Luz is more novel-like, but it's still less of a plot-driven narrative than an immersive sensual experience to read the book. 

As an avid reader of historical fiction, hungry for more perspectives, and appreciative of a whole sensory experience, I strongly recommend this book. It touches on several topics worthy of a deeper discussion, making the novel an excellent book club choice.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an electronic version of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Fajardo-Anstine's writing is some of the most beautiful work being produced today. I was totally immersed in this story, and it's one I've never seen in a book before. Honestly, I find it hard to write anything meaningful about this book as an amateur reviewer - it's one of those books that simply reminds you of the joy of a well crafted, emotional novel.
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