Our Lives Are the Rivers

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Overview

Based on actual events, this sweeping novel tells the life story of a woman who was willing to risk it all for her country and her lover—in whose legacy lies the history of an entire continent.

Our Lives Are the Rivers tells the story of beautiful young freedom fighter Manuela Sáenz, and the epic tale of her long love affair with liberator Simón Bolívar. A novel of intoxicating love, passion, and adventure, Jaime Manrique vividly captures a ...

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Our Lives Are the Rivers

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Overview

Based on actual events, this sweeping novel tells the life story of a woman who was willing to risk it all for her country and her lover—in whose legacy lies the history of an entire continent.

Our Lives Are the Rivers tells the story of beautiful young freedom fighter Manuela Sáenz, and the epic tale of her long love affair with liberator Simón Bolívar. A novel of intoxicating love, passion, and adventure, Jaime Manrique vividly captures a dynamic continent struggling for its own identity.

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Editorial Reviews

Cathleen Medwick
Manrique's novel is full of stories: how the teenage Manuela ran off with an amorous lieutenant, destroying her reputation; how she helped Bolívar dodge an ambush at the Presidential Palace in Bogotá, then met his intended assassins, saber in hand, earning her the honorific "liberator of the Liberator"; how in a letter she dispensed with James Thorne, her pasty English husband ("I have an idea: in heaven we will marry again; but no more on this earth. . . . Everything will be done in the English style in heaven, where a perfectly monotonous life is reserved for the people of your nation").
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Manrique (Latin Moon in Manhattan) distills the tumultuous last years of colonial South America through the life of Manuela Saenz (1797-1856), the controversial mistress of Gen. Simon Bolivar. A veteran spy in Peru's successful, early 1820s struggle against Spanish rule, Ecuadorian Manuela meets Simon, a Venezuelan aristocrat who led five South American nations to independence, while she suffers the de facto slavery of an arranged marriage to a wealthy, possessive Englishman, James Thorne. In her relationship with Sim n, Manuela finds passion and renewed purpose, earning the moniker "liberator of the Liberator" after pushing Bolivar out a window to help him escape assailants. She remains loyal to Bolivar until his death in 1830 and earns the rank of colonel in battlefield heroics along the way. Haphazardly placed chapters in the voices of Manuela's black slaves, Natan and Jonotas, offer further perspectives on Manuela and Sim n's vision of freedom; it would be rejected by South America as tyranny, leading, among other things, to Manuela's exile from Colombia, her destitution and her burial in an unmarked Peruvian grave at the novel's bittersweet conclusion. An epic page-turner that swells with ecstatic love and righteous anger, Manrique's latest skillfully recreates an inspired pair, and their times. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
From the poet, novelist, and award-winning author Manrique (Eminent Maricones: Arenas, Lorca, Puig, and Me) comes a piece of historical fiction set in revolutionary South America and based on the life of Manuela Saenz, considered by many to be the most important woman in Latin American history as well as that region's first feminist. Manrique adeptly chronicles Saenz's uniquely independent life and inimitable contributions to South America's independence from Spain as well as her intense love affair with revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar. A selfless patron for the independence cause, Saenz evokes the charisma, strength, determination, and political savvy of the former First Lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, and Manrique's telling of her tumultuous and dangerous life should be especially inspiring to women. This compelling (if a tad long) and plausible interpretation of S enz's life is recommended for fiction collections, especially those that serve a Hispanic community.-Sofia A. Tangalos, SUNY at Buffalo Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The story of Manuela Saenz, mistress of the Liberator, Sim-n Bol'var, who chased the Spanish out of South America. Quito, Ecuador, 1822. Bol'var, liberator of Venezuela and Colombia, enters the city as a conquering hero. Only 25, Manuela is a hero herself, having helped Peru attain its independence. She makes a play for the Liberator at the victory ball; captivated by her beauty and political savvy, he invites her to his room. Does the fact she's married give Manuela pause? Hell, no! Off to a strong start, Manrique (Latin Moon in Manhattan, 1992, etc.) backtracks to Manuela's origins. Born illegitimate on an Ecuadorean hacienda; raised by a hateful aunt and equally hateful nuns at a Quito boarding school, with only her female slaves, Jonotas and Natan, for friends; eventually acknowledged by her father, a wealthy businessman; married off by him to an English fleet owner living in Peru, where she joins the underground independence movement. Defying her husband, she lives openly with Bol'var in Lima until he returns to the battlefield, "his true mistress," on which Manuela will cut a dashing figure herself. But there's no drama there, for her military exploits will be narrated dryly by Natan. Lima is the high point for the lovers; they will have two much more difficult years together in Bogota, Colombia, a hotbed of intrigue, before Bol'var dies. The much younger Manuela, now destitute, will live on for years, sustained by memories of the great man. The juicy tale of passion between two history-shaping free spirits, promised in that opening scene, never quite materializes. This is partly because the lovers are so often apart, but also because Manrique feels the need to provide historicalbalance, involving a synopsis of Colombia's convoluted politics and Natan's awkwardly inserted opinions that Bol'var is "cold and ruthless" and that the lovers have the makings of tyrants. A welcome spotlight on a neglected historical figure, but Manrique wobbles toward the end.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060820718
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/20/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 807,478
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Jaime Manrique is the award-winning author of the memoir Eminent Maricones, and the novels Latin Moon in Manhattan, Twilight at the Equator, and Colombian Gold. A contributor to Salon.com, BOMB, and other publications, he lives in New York City and is an associate professor in the MFA program at Columbia University.

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Read an Excerpt

Our Lives Are the Rivers

A Novel
By Jaime Manrique

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Jaime Manrique
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060820705

Chapter One

Quito, Ecuador

1822

I was born a rich bastard and died a poor one. That is the short story of my life. What it felt like to be Manuela Saenz, the love child of my parents, Simon Saenz de Vergara y Yedra and Joaquina Aispuru, is a longer story. But the story I want to tell you, the story of my love for the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, began long before I met him. It began when I was a young girl in the school of the Concepta nuns in Quito, where my mother's family kept me imprisoned until I eloped with the first man who said he loved me.

While my classmates memorized endless romantic poems to recite at family gatherings, I learned by heart long passages from Simon Bolivar's proclamations. On my visits at the end of the school year to my family in Catahuango, I would search out copies of his latest speeches and manifestos and smuggle them back to school to read during the few hours of the day when I could escape the nuns' surveillance. I read everything I could find about Bolivar in the few newspapers that arrived at the school library, and I drank every word of the tales about him that were so much a topic of the conversations of the adults. To me Bolivar was the noblest man alive. Although he had been born into the richest family in Venezuela, he had given up his fortune to free South America. In my eyes, sacrifice made him even more heroic. His wife died just after they married, when they were still newlyweds. It was said he grieved for her so much that he lost his will to live. Bolivar's savior came in the form of revolution.

He had been exiled from South America to Jamaica after his first defeat by the Spanish army. He soon returned in triumph. His proclamations had the power to move people with the mighty force and truth of his words. He was a poet, a warrior, a great lover. Wherever he went, women threw themselves at him. And who could blame them? I was convinced he was the man South America had been waiting for, the man who would lead the continent to independence. The moment I first heard of the Liberator's intrepid feats, I pledged my life to his cause.

By the time I was old enough to understand that we criollos could not attend the best schools, or enter the most prestigious professions, or export and import goods from countries other than Spain -- in other words, that we would never have the same rights in the eyes of the law as the Spaniards -- and would just plain never be treated as equals and with dignity, simply because we were born on the American continent -- I began to dream of the day when we would be free of Spanish rule. Thus each one of Bolivar's victories -- victories that freed more and more South American territory from Spain -- made me delirious with joy. When I learned his army had suffered a defeat, I felt as if the loss were inflicted on my own flesh -- I would take to bed for days, screaming from the pain of my headaches. If members of my family dared criticize the Liberator in my presence, I would explode with anger. "You ungrateful race," I said at dinner one night to my aunt and grandmother, tears pouring from my eyes. "Bolivar has given his all to set us free, and all you can do is mock him. If the future of our nation lies in the hands of the likes of you, then we're doomed." As far as I was concerned, the man was perfect, and one could either love him and believe, or be his enemy and live without meaning. My friends and family quickly learned to be cautious whenever Bolivar's name was mentioned in my presence.

It was not until I was a married woman that our paths first crossed. In 1822, I had returned to Quito from Lima, determined to sell Catahuango, the hacienda my mother had bequeathed to me. In order to leave James Thorne, the Englishman my father had sold me to, the man I had been wife to in Lima for the last five years, I decided I must liquidate my only valuable property. My marriage to James had made me one of the wealthiest ladies of Peru, but more than a life of luxury, I wanted my freedom, and attaining this depended on selling the hacienda.

My entrance to Quito, accompanied by my slaves, Jonotas and Natan, caused a commotion. I rode into town wearing on my breast the highest honor Peru bestowed upon civilians -- the gold medal of Knight of the Order of the Sun, which General San Martin had awarded to me for my contributions to the independence of Peru just the year before.

Natan and I had barely begun to unpack my trunks in my old bedroom in my father's house when Jonotas burst into the room, shouting the news that Simon Bolivar and his troops had reached the Avenue of the Volcanoes and would enter the city the following day. She informed us preparations were under way to receive the Liberator with a parade and a ball. Just the year before Bolivar had proclaimed the formation of Gran Colombia, which included the provinces of Nueva Granada, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela.

I could not have timed my arrival in Quito better even if I had had knowledge of Bolivar's plans. His imminent arrival was a fateful sign. I was determined to meet el Libertador at last. I immediately wrote a note to the authorities of Quito asking for an invitation to the ball in his honor. In the years that had passed since I first became obsessed with Bolivar, my admiration and loyalty had only grown. It was in part the blind admiration I felt for him that gave me the courage and conviction to work . . .

Continues...


Excerpted from Our Lives Are the Rivers by Jaime Manrique Copyright © 2006 by Jaime Manrique. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Before Eva Peron or Collette, there was Manuela Sáenz. She was one of the most fascinating and sexy women in all history, who single-handedly helped secure independence for South America from Spain.

Based on actual events, Our Lives are the Rivers tells the life story of a woman who was willing to risk it all for her country—and her lover—and in whose legacy lies the history of an entire continent.

The novel begins in 1822, when Simón Bolívar, known as "The Liberator," marches into Quito, victoriously leading an army that had overthrown its Spanish rulers, winning independence for a giant swath of land in what is now South America.

As he makes his way through the cheering crowds on the streets, he is hit on the forehead by a crown of laurels, thrown by Manuela Sáenz, a beautiful young woman of means who wore on her chest the gold medal of Knight of the Sun, the first honor given by the new republic to any woman in the New World. The attraction between them was so strong, they became lovers that same night, and remained together for the following 8 years, the last of Bolívar's life.

Told from the point of view of Manuela Sáenz, as well as her two loyal slaves, Our Lives are the Rivers is a novel of intoxicating love, loyalty, passion, and adventure.

Questions for Discussion

1. Who do you think Jaime Manrique chose this epigraph? What does it have to do with the story of Manuela Sáenz?

2. Right at the beginning of the novel, it becomes apparent that Manuela Sáenz is narrating, but speaking of herself in the 3rd person. Whatreason could you come up with for this?

3. What purpose is served by narrating the book from three different perspectives: Manuela, Natán, and Jonatás?

4. When Manuela's father informs her that she is to be married to James Thorne, she has an incredibly strong negative reaction. Why did Manuela oppose so strongly to the marriage?

5. Why do you think Manuela waited until Natán asked for her freedom to grant it? Why didn't she set her slaves free earlier?

6. Why do you think Jonatás was so much more loyal to Manuela than Natán?

7. The themes of love and loyalty weigh heavily on Manuela's story. Examine 2-3 instances where these themes are evident.

8. Manuela seemed to think that her eight-year long relationship with Bolívar was worth losing her place in society, her wealth—everything she had once valued so dearly. Do you agree with her in this respect?

9. Once you have finished reading the story of Manuela Sáenz—considering how passionate Manuela was about the liberation from Spain—examine the love she has with Simon Bolívar. Do you believe she was more in love with the man or the idea? Explain your decision.

10. Why does Manuela compare herself to a condor at the end of the book? What symbolism could be derived from that comparison?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2013

    Well written. Very interesting. Manrique tells an interesting lo

    Well written. Very interesting. Manrique tells an interesting love story and intertwines Latin American culture while doing so.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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