Our Lives Are the Rivers: A Novel

Our Lives Are the Rivers: A Novel

by Jaime Manrique


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060820718
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/20/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.86(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

Our Lives Are the RiversChapter One

Quito, Ecuador


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 Sáenz, the love child of my parents, Simón Sáenz 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, Simón Bolívar, 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 Simón Bolívar'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 Bolívar 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 Bolívar 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. Bolívar's savior came in the form of revolution.

He hadbeen 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 Bolívar'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. "Bolívar 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 Bolívar'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, Jonotás and Natán, 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 Martín had awarded to me for my contributions to the independence of Peru just the year before.

Natán and I had barely begun to unpack my trunks in my old bedroom in my father's house when Jonotás burst into the room, shouting the news that Simón Bolívar 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 Bolívar 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 Bolívar'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 Bolívar, 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 . . .

Our Lives Are the Rivers. Copyright © by Jaime Manrique. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Reading Group Guide


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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Our Lives Are the Rivers 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
bfreed98 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I randomnly chose this book from the library because of all reasons, I loved the cover. It was an interesting read about South American history, Simon Bolivar and his lover. I enjoyed learning about this place and time in history and reading about a strong woman character, but the novel itself was very monotonous. The descriptions of the different towns in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, etc. did make me want to travel to see them for myself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written. Very interesting. Manrique tells an interesting love story and intertwines Latin American culture while doing so.