In her word of mouth bestselling memoir When I Was Puerto Rican, Esmeralda Santiago wrote about growing up in two different worlds; one in rural Puerto Rico, the other in New York City. In her historical novel, Conquistadora, she writes about a character's difficult transition between two equally different realms. Even as a young girl in southwest Spain, Ana Cubillas was enthralled with the idea of Puerto Rico, which she knew mainly through the diaries of a 16th century ancestors. To achieve her dream, Ana marries a young suitor, but in this Gone With The Wind-like saga, her heart belongs mostly to her hacienda, which undergoes major changes with the advent of the American Civil War on the mainland. Early reviews call this "a sensual, riveting tale" and "thrilling history."
Having launched her writing career with the well-regarded memoir When I Was Puerto Rican and her fiction career with America's Dream, Santiago goes for broke with this grand, sprawling novel, which starts out in 19th-century Spain. Ana Cubillas is enraptured by the diaries of an ancestor who explored Puerto Rico with Ponce de León. She therefore marries Ramón, who with his twin brother has inherited a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico, and convinces the brothers that their future lies in the plantation. She just wasn't prepared for the heat, the wildlife, and the slave labor. At first glance, this is engrossing and polished, without the let's-just-get-through-it writing than can mar sagas. With an eight-city tour and a reading group guide.
The book's strength is its Rubik's Cube portrait of Ana, an unconventional, ambitious woman whose attitudes toward children, slaves and lovers perplex and engross…Ana is emotionally intelligent enough to imagine how slaves might feel, to understand their longing for freedom, yet ruthless enough to use and punish them in order to flourish herself. Neither white witch nor angel, she is convincing despite her contradictionsindeed, because of them.
The New York Times
The novel's setup could have spun into a bodice ripper or a potboiler. Instead, once Ana lands in the lush and perilous island that is mid-19th-century Puerto Rico, the tempo and the virtuosic writing accelerate…Santiago's storytelling is thrilling, and her descriptions of the island and its multinational denizens are luminous. Her characters' complexities emerge and collide while the plot twists like tropical vines…Santiago's Ana is a woman with a lust for life and the drive of a conquistador. She may be flawed, but she's also fabulous, and Conquistadora is a triumph.
The Washington Post
“Santiago’s storytelling is thrilling. . . . Conquistadora is a triumph.” —The Washington Post
“An author in full command. . . . In Santiago’s hands, Ana is a woman to remember and Puerto Rico a country to cherish.” —The Miami Herald
“A splendid expedition into colonial history complete with enrapturing suspense to the very end.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Ana [is] an unconventional, ambitious woman whose attitudes toward children, slaves and lovers perplex and engross. . . . A guided tour of the history of sugar and empire.” —The New York Times Book Review
“An enthralling family saga. . . . Four stars.” —People
“If, as the proverb goes, history is written by the hunters, then Esmeralda Santiago has imagined history as written from the point of view of the lions. A remarkable story for its detail, imagination, meticulous research, and wisdom, this is history written by a lion at the height of her powers.” —Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street
“Conquistadora is an expertly researched novel that fuses Antillean/Puerto Rican history and a spellbinding and action-packed storyline that will surprise and dazzle its readers. . . . A crown jewel of Puerto Rican literature.” —Being Latino
“Lusty, ambitious women are staples of epic fiction, and in these pages Santiago has created a ferociously seductive character. . . . Read this absorbing, impeccably researched novel for its lush history and for the way Santiago’s narrative constantly surprises—just as its protagonist does, confronting the gender limitations of her day.” —More
“Conquistadora is a wonderful and richly drawn novel. . . . A grand achievement from one of our finest writers.” —Oscar Hijuelos, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love and Beautiful Maria of My Soul
“Part romance, part portrait of a woman struggling against the constraints of her time and class. Santiago’s writing often surprises with its sly humor.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Extraordinary. . . . . An outstanding story, full of pathos, tropical sensuality, and violence—but it also poses uncomfortable moral questions readers are forced to consider . . . Storytelling genius . . . Conquistadora is a book-group must.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Ana will inevitably bring to mind thoughts of that other imperious plantation dweller, Scarlett O’Hara. . . . Conquistadora can be enjoyed as a grand romantic adventure tale, complete with plenty of sex and violence. But author Esmerelda Santiago . . . doesn’t ignore the political and economic realities of Ana’s life.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“Readers may not sympathize with Ana . . . but her unflinching devotion to her dream of living with the valor and beauty of her conqueror ancestors is compelling.” —BookPage
“An epic beach read.” —Marie Claire
“Santiago brings passion, color, and historical detail to this Puerto Rican Gone with the Wind, featuring a hard-as-nails heroine more devoted to her plantation than to any of the men in her life. . . . The richness of [Santiago’s] imagination and the lushness of her language will serve saga enthusiasts well.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An enthralling epic that not only illuminates the life of one extraordinary woman, but of the great sweep of Puerto Rican history. . . . Conquistadora will seduce readers heart and soul.” —Cristina García, author of Dreaming in Cuban
“The multitalented author of When I Was Puerto Rican offers a big, bold novel about life on a Caribbean sugar plantation in the mid-19th century. . . . With drama, adventure, and even a bit of magical realism, Conquistadora may remind readers of Isabel Allende’s novels of Latin America.” —Library Journal
“Impressive . . . . Conquistadora is a story of epic dimensions, one which demands to be taken seriously—and at the same time is just a tremendous amount of fun. Hats off to Esmeralda Santiago, for a delicious novel that instructs as easily as it pleases.” —Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls’ Rising
“A powerful new novel that is colorful, sexy, and shimmering with magical writing as lush as the tropical island on which it takes place. Alive with all their passions and flaws, here are characters so boldly imagined they feel real, and in a story so transporting you can almost smell the sugar cane.” —Terry McMillan, author of Getting to Happy and Waiting to Exhale
“I loved this novel from the first sentence, and wept with emotion by the end. . . . Esmeralda Santiago has given voice to a history that has eluded me. Here is a haunting, visceral epic that satisfies on every level and yet leaves you hungry for more. Bravo, Conquistadora!” —Daisy Martinez, host of Viva Daisy! and author of Daisy’s Holiday Cooking
Or,Gone with el Viento: a Puerto Rican–set saga of forbidden love, slavery and humidity.
Gloriosa Ana María de los Ángeles Larragoity Cubillas Nieves de Donostia is a handful, breast-fed by gypsies and spoiled by a small army of dispensable servants. Still, the Spanish lass has her sights on independence and accomplishments won by herself, in the manner of her conquistador ancestor, Don Hernán, spinner of tales concerning gold, limpid rivers, "unusual fruits that dangled from climbing vines"and other such good things to be found on the distant island of Puerto Rico. But how to get to that "world beyond her balcony"from Spain? Well, it being the 19th century and all, Ana has to choose the right man to take her there. Check: There's the obliging Ramón, who just happens to have a handsome brother—and from that starting point, Santiago turns this romance into a bodice-ripper and chest-heaver that wastes no time in getting hot and heavy. Early on, we find Ana exploring "the new sensations in her body, but [she] envisioned God frowning whenever she brushed her fingers against her budding breasts to feel the pleasure at the touch, so even her thoughts were forbidden." Soon enough, we find her entertaining both brothersin flagrante, or, better, in a steamy plantation full of steamy slaves and their sullen overseers. What's a nice girl to do? Well, wait as the menfolk start to drop dead one by one, the tropics being a dangerous place, watch as Tara South gets chewed up by termites and fruit bats and harbor a few regrets about having "committed the sins of adultery and fornication without seeking penance." Ah, but then come the steely arms of another man and the passage of years, and lo, the jungle is conquered—at least until the sequel.
A pot-boiler—competent enough, with an exotic setting and characters, but nothing special within its genre.