Under the Feet of Jesus

Under the Feet of Jesus

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by Helena Maria Viramontes
     
 

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At the center of this powerful tale is Estrella, a girl about to cross over the perilous border to womanhood. What she knows of life comes from her mother, who has survived abandonment by her husband in a land that treats her as if she were invisible, even though she and her children pick the crops of the farms that feed its people...from the aging but iron-bodied man… See more details below

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Overview

At the center of this powerful tale is Estrella, a girl about to cross over the perilous border to womanhood. What she knows of life comes from her mother, who has survived abandonment by her husband in a land that treats her as if she were invisible, even though she and her children pick the crops of the farms that feed its people...from the aging but iron-bodied man who reluctantly becomes the head of the family, even as dreams of his youth in Mexico are calling him home...and from the endless highways and vast fields of California, where they travel and work together. But within Estrella, seeds of growth and change are stirring. And in the arms of Alejo, only a few years older than herself, they burst into full fierce flower, as she tastes the joy and pain of first love. Estrella begins to listen to her own inner voice in giving herself to that love. She comes to learn the value of life and discovers her own power to defy a system that would otherwise keep her down. Pushed to the margins of society, she learns to fight back and is able to help the young farmworker she loves when his ambitions and very life are threatened in a harvest of death. Infused with the beauty of the California landscape and shifting splendors of the passing seasons juxtaposed with the bleakness of poverty, this vividly imagined novel, so observant and full of wisdom, is worthy of the people it celebrates and whose story it tells so magnificently. The simple lyrical beauty of Viramontes's prose, her haunting use of image and metaphor, and the urgency of her themes all announce Under the Feet of Jesus as a landmark work of American fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This first novel adds another important chapter to the existing body of literature about the Mexican-American experience. Viramontes (The Moths and Other Stories), who teaches at Cornell, does not offer deep characterization or psychological complexity here. Instead, working firmly in the social-realist vein of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, she paints a harrowing ensemble portrait of migrant laborers in California's fruit fields. The family of 13-year-old Estrella, and the others with whom they travel and work, burn under 109-degree heat until the backs of their necks sting; women nurse their babies in the backs of pickups. Viramontes depicts this world with a sensuous physicality, as when Petra, Estrella's mother, digs a fingernail into the melting tar of a blacktop highway. And the close quarters in which her characters are forced to live promotes a collective intimacy that Viramontes evokes with a sure hand, conveying the solace to be found in solidarity while never losing sight of the fact that these people enjoy absolutely no privacy. Slow and wandering at the outset, the novel picks up after a small plane releases a white shower of deadly pesticide, which washes over the face of Alejo, a teenager who is perched in a peach tree, busy stealing the soft, ripe fruit. Alejo is drenched with poison, much to the horror of Estrella, who has fallen in love with him. Alejo becomes sick with what the migrants call ``dao of the fields''-so sick that the de facto leader of the workers wants to leave him behind. But Estrella makes it her mission to help save him, and she is driven to great sacrifice in order to do so. Into this unforgiving world, Viramontes pours archetypal themes of the passage of time, young love, the bonds and tensions between generations and, above all, the straining of the spirit to transcend miserable material conditions. (Apr.)
Gilbert Taylor
Migrant Mexicans shackled to a life of itinerant farm labor form the backdrop for a summer in the life of young Estrella and her family. Seemingly a prescription for sorrow, in Viramontes' hands the canvas instead teems with color and builds toward hope for a liberating future--at least for Estrella. Her mother, Petra, and stepfather, Perfecto, remain confined to their tattered possessions and dusty poverty, and much of Viramontes' imagery--imaginative and allusive descriptions of land, orchards, and worn-out clothes--fix in readers' minds that they will not escape. Estrella, too, partakes of this despair of the migrant's world, but being young she is not resign to her seeming fate. Her feelings culminate when she smashes up a nurse's office, goaded by the nurse's insensitivity to the family's privation and shortage of cash. That shock quickly abates, but the anger elides into an ethereal mood as Perfecto weighs abandoning the family while Estrella wanders through a barn to scatter then reattract a flock of symbolic birds. A chromatically impressionistic novella that should hit home in Latin literature collections.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780525939498
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
04/28/1995
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
12.23(w) x 5.98(h) x 0.76(d)

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