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A Place Where the Sea Remembers

A Place Where the Sea Remembers

2.9 11
by Sandra Benitez

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Finalist for the Los Angeles Times book award and winner of the Minnesota Book Award, A Place Where the Sea Remembers is a timeless classic, a mesmerizing world filled with love, betrayal, tragedy, and hope.

This rich and bewitching story is a bittersweet portrait of the people in Santiago, a Mexican village by the sea. Chayo, the flower seller, and


Finalist for the Los Angeles Times book award and winner of the Minnesota Book Award, A Place Where the Sea Remembers is a timeless classic, a mesmerizing world filled with love, betrayal, tragedy, and hope.

This rich and bewitching story is a bittersweet portrait of the people in Santiago, a Mexican village by the sea. Chayo, the flower seller, and her husband Candelario, the salad maker, are finally blessed with the child they thought they would never have. Their cause for happiness, however, triggers a chain of events that impact the lives of everyone in their world.

The hopes, triumphs, failures, and shortcomings of the novel’s enchanting array of characters create a graceful picture of life that is both a universal portrait and an insider’s look at life in Latin America.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Latina writer Benitez begins her excellent debut novel with a painful event--the wait for a drowned body to float to shore--and works backwards, retracing the myriad, seemingly insignificant steps that led to the character's death. As in Like Water for Chocolate , this novel sympathetically explores the lives of Mexican women caught in a mystical, fatalistic world. Chayo, a flower seller, and her sister Marta, a chambermaid, live in a poverty-stricken village by the sea. When 15-year-old Marta is raped and becomes pregnant, seemingly barren Chayo and her husband, Candelario, agree to take the child. Soon after, however, Chayo discovers that she too is expectant and reneges on the promise. Livid, Marta arranges with el brujo , the witch doctor, to put a curse on her sister's child. Both women bear sons, and a remorseful Marta tells her sister about the curse, which she claims to have had removed by la curandera , the healer. But when Chayo's son almost dies after being bitten by fire ants, the sisters' relationship once more deteriorates and, inexorably, the tragedy presaged in the book's opening chapter comes to pass. Benitez's unsparing vision into the stark realities of village residents' lives offers a poignant counterpoint to superficial vacation snapshots of Mexico. (Sept.)
Library Journal
This emotionally gripping, though flawed first novel tells a story of life and death in the Mexican village of Santiago. When the infertile Chayo unexpectedly conceives, she and her husband renege on their promise to raise her sister's unwanted child as their own, setting in motion a chain of events that ultimately result in tragedy. The author displays an exceptionally keen sense of detail and creates interesting people whose very different lives lend variety to the narrative. However, the book suffers from an abundance of underdeveloped characters and story lines, which at times render it rather unsatisfactory. The inclusion of an apparently supernatural element works potently at a visual level but makes no substantive contribution to the novel and may prompt readers to wonder if Benitez is simply hopping on the bandwagon of Magical Realism. Recommended for libraries with a strong interest in Latino literature.-- Cherry W. Li, Univ. of Southern California Lib., Los Angeles
School Library Journal
YA-In the small Mexican town of Santiago, childless Chayo and her husband find their prayers answered when they agree to adopt the unborn child of Marta, Chayo's sister. When Chayo becomes pregnant and they change their mind about adoption, Marta has a witch doctor put a curse on Chayo's unborn baby, setting in motion a series of tragic events. Characters, presented individually by the author and then woven together by plot, attach themselves to readers' sensibilities, and lull them into believing in the goodness of life in this sleepy seaside community. However, all this cultural richness is poised for tragedy when divine retribution takes over.-Ginny Ryder, Lee High School, Fairfax County, VA
Eloise Kinney
First-novelist Benitez has written a remarkably simple but exquisite novel depicting events in the lives of several villagers in a small seaside town in Mexico. Each chapter is sufficient unto itself, yet later, when Benitez shows how those lives connect, the story becomes immeasurably richer, more complete. The chapters, titled after the occupations of their main characters (the salad maker, the photographer, the fisherman), are interspersed with short interludes from Remedios, the healer. Remedios' patience is infinite, and she recognizes what the book's other characters do not--the inevitability of fate. Benitez fills each page with small details that resonate with meaning, and her portrayal of what makes life worth living is breathtaking. A portion of the sale of each book will be donated to Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, Our Little Brothers and Sisters, in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.
From the Publisher
Cristina García
The Washington Post Book World
"Profound in its simplicity and rhythm . . . a quietly stunning work that leaves soft tracks in the heart."

Product Details

Coffee House Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
15 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


La Curandera (curandera, n.f. healer)

Remedios, la curandera, stands at the edge of the sea. The old healer is weary, a result, in part, of the countless times she has cocked her head in the direction of someone's story. Remedios knows the town's stories. Just as the sea, as their witness, knows them, too.

Remedios looks out over the deep. Tucked under an arm is the swordfish beak that is one of her prized possessions. She has owned it for many years. Usually she keeps the sword in her hut, on her altar, la mesa santa. Not today. Today she has brought the sword to the sea because it signifies the waters and the mighty fish that live there. She has brought it because el pico de pez espada helps her find those who have drowned.

Today Remedios awaits the one blue wave that will bring a corpse to shore. The body we wait for, she thinks, the sea will yield up. Today. Tomorrow. The sea cannot be rushed. The others wring their hands, hold their breaths on the far side of the crag, at the place where the river joins the sea. But not Remedios. El pico has led her to this spot, and it is here she'll keep her vigil.

Gathering her long dark skirt between her legs, Remedios squats on the shore. She lays el pico across her lap. Around her neck is the cord from which her medicine pouch hangs. The pouch rests directly over her heart and contains the secret talismans that fortify and empower her. Remedios spreads a palm over the little pouch, then reaches for the line of foamy brine rippling toward her. In the biting honesty of salt, the sea makes her secrets known to those who care to listen. She touches a fingerto her tongue and the stories come.

The sea remembers. So it is the sea retells.

Copyright © 1993 by Sandra Benítez

Meet the Author

Sandra Benitez

"I spent my life moving between the Latin American culture of my
Puerto Rican mother and the Anglo-American culture of my father.
I was born on March 26, 1941 in Washington, D.C., one of a pair of
identical twins. My sister died only a month after our birth. A year
later my parents and I moved to Mexico where another sister was born.
My childhood and early adulthood were spent in Mexico and El Salvador.
When I think of those years, the images that come to me are awash in
the color saffron: the Spanish language, the permeable scent of cedar
and leather, the shimmering heat, the color of the women in the household,
the stories they told, the lives they shared.

"In Latin America, I learned that life is frail and most
always capricious, that people find joy in the midst of insurmountable
obstacles, that in the end, it is hope that saves us.

"When I became a teenager, I was sent to live for three
years on my paternal grandparents' farm in Northeastern
Missouri, and this is where I attended high school. I was the first
Latina the people there had ever known. Those years live for me
in a pale blue light: the thin sheen the setting sun casts on the
snow banks, the color of my father's eyes, the doleful bawl a cow
makes when it has lost its calf, the back-breaking work that is the
farmer's lot.

"In Missouri, I learned that life is what you make it, and
that satisfaction comes with a job well done, that in the end,
it is steadfastness that saves us."

"I received my undergraduate and master's degrees from
Northeast Missouri State University. Over the years I have been
an English, Spanish, and Literature teacher at both high school
and university levels. I have been a translator, and I have worked
in the international division of a major training corporation. I
have traveled extensively throughout Latin America. Since 1980,
I have been a fiction writer and a creative writing teacher. I have
two grown sons and I live with my husband in Minnesota."

"I came to writing late. I was thirty-nine before I gathered
enough courage to begin. When I hear other writers talk about
writing, I'm amazed by those who say they always knew they had
to write. When I was a girl, I never wished to do it. Being a writer
was something magical I never dreamed I could attain. But while
growing up, I frequently had a book in my lap — and so I was
linked even then to writing and to the spell that stories cast. I
didn't know a writing life was lying in store for me. I had to live
and grow before I caught the faint call. Since heeding the call,
I've worked hard at being faithful to it, for writing is an act of
faith. We must keep faith each day with our writing if we want to
be called writers.

"Since I've been writing I've searched what's in my heart
and its from that core that I write and not from what seems
marketable. I am a Latina American. In my heart are stored the
stories of my Latin American and Missourian heritage — of a
childhood lived in Mexico and El Salvador. When I write, I have to
suppress the knowledge that mainstream America often ignores
the stories of 'the other America.' Over the years, I've learned to
write from the heart, to persevere despite the setbacks of a host
of rejections.

"In the end, I've learned these things about writing: its
never too late to begin; we know all we need to know in order to
do it; persistence and tenacity will take us all the way. There are
angels on our shoulders, be still to catch their whisperings."

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A Place Where the Sea Remembers 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When reading this, I could feel the gorgeous scenery through the book. All of the characters are humane and magical. I loved it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. Although it's a quick read, I laughed, cried and got angry right along with the characters. I enjoyed reading about a different culture as well. I could't put this book down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I belive this book has lots of details and emotions. This book gives you characters that will be in your mind till the last page. You wont forget the way these characters as they come alive with their on stories. All these characters become one inspiring story that i hope everyone reads.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It held my attention most of the time and had a great story. The only part I did not like is that the minor characters had a big, but unimportant part in the book. There where many different stories added into the main one that could've been left out. I do recommend that you read it, especially if you like books that give you insight into different cultures. I have not read any of her other books but I do plan to in the future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It held my attention most of the time and had a great story. The only part I did not like about this book is that the minor characters had a big, but unimportant part in the book. There were so many different stories added into the main idea that could've been left out. I do reccommend that you read it, especially if you like books that give you insight into different cultures. I have never read any of her other books before but I do plan on reading some of them now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book and it had all of its action at the end. This book tried to make insignificant characters have too many parts, and this lessoned its quality. There was no single conflict in this book or even a main one so the book seemed very poorly written. It was not worth the time to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It put life in a small Mexican village into perspective. I think the back and forth plot helped me to truly understand the intensely gripping severity of all that happened.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A good story for people interested in Latin folklore. The writing style is a bit jumbled and hard to follow at times. The story line of sister at odds with each other is an age old story of jealousy and pride. As the story unfolds regarding Chayo's son and her sister's wanting a child one can see the sibling rivalry unfold. This book should be recommended for high school teens. I found no real enjoyment in reading about the death of a child and the wanting of a mother for her child back.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the worst book I have ever read.This story was horrible and had no point.Dont waste your time and read this.
Guest More than 1 year ago
WOw..it was an interesting book although i didn't really enjoy it, i finish reading the book anywase....i like it how it's different people in different chapter..i respect your book and would like to tell everyone out there that...it's a great book..you learn from what u read ....
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was a very hard to read because it was not an enjoyable book to read! i would rather shoot my self then be forced to read this again!