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Calligraphy of the Witchby Alicia Gaspar de Alba
Synopses & Reviews
Mexico, 1683. When Concepción Benavidez flees her indenture from the convent of San Jerónimo in Mexico City and sets out to join a band of refugee slaves along with her friend Aléndula, the two are captured by buccaneers in Vera Cruz led by the famed Laurens-Cornille de Graaf, who is running a slave- and provisions ship headed for New England. Aléndula dies on the journey, but Concepción, upon arrival, is renamed Thankful Seagraves and sold to a Boston merchant, Nathaniel Greenwood, who plans to have her care for his crippled father-in-law and manage the Old Man’s chicken farm. Delirious, half-starved, and terrified by her ordeal on board theNeptune, during which the Captain raped her repeatedly, Thankful Seagraves gives birth to a daughter, coveted by Rebecca, Nathaniel's fallow wife, and over the next eight years struggles to adapt herself into English colonial life. With great difficulty she attempts to raise her daughter in the faith and language of New Spain and thus forge a connection between herself and the girl even while Rebecca slowly turns Hanna against her. Like her friend, Tituba Indian, Concepción is a perpetual outsider — her mixed-race looks as well as her accent and her Catholic background set her apart — and before long she gets swept up in the hysteria of the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, culminating in a shocking accusation by her own daughter, who renounces her mother and declares her a witch.
"A spirited indentured servant gets tangled up in the 17th-century Massachusetts Bay Colony witch hunts in this ambitious historical drama. Halfway through her 15-year indenture at a Mexico City convent, Concepcin Benavidez escapes only to be captured by pirates and taken to Boston, where she's sold into slavery. Nathaniel Greenwood, a local merchant, is impressed that the 'papist slave' can write and purchases her to help his disabled father-in-law manage his chicken farm. Renamed Thankful Seagraves, Concepcin, who was repeatedly raped by the pirate captain, soon discovers that she's pregnant. Greenwood's barren wife, Rebecca, covets Concepcin's newborn daughter, Hanna, and sets out to take her away. As their struggle over the girl unfolds, witch hysteria grips the colony, and Concepcin is drawn into the fray when Hanna fingers her for a witch. De Alba's recreation is undercut by thin characterizations — the men are mostly cruel and the women victims, the notable exception being Concepcin, who clings to her dignity under the most trying conditions. But De Alba (Sor Juana's Second Dream) has a firm grasp of her historical material and portrays the pirate life as convincingly as the witch trials. Readers interested in the period will want to give this a look." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] book of historical detail and poetic precision. Gaspar de Alba's magic is that her story humanizes the witch hunts of 1692, and, in turn, the witch hunts of today." Sandra Cisneros, author of Caramelo, The House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories
"Get ready for a new kind of superhero: Alicia Gaspar de Alba's Calligraphy of the Witch tells the tale of the magnificent Concepción, a Mexican amanuensis to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who is stolen from Mexico and sold as a slave in 17th century Massachusetts. Renamed Thankful Seagraves, Concepción uses her wit and her enormous strength to survive the perils of this witchburning country, braving brigands, inquisitors, and even the white woman who would steal her only daughter, Jeronima. Gaspar de Alba has given us a vivid, beautifully told tale of pirates, rebels, passion, mother-daughter love, and the eternal search for freedom. Read Calligraphy of the Witch and enter the mysteries of an untold history." Yxta Maya Murray, author of The Queen Jade, The Conquest, Locas, and What It Takes to Get to Vegas
"Alicia Gaspar de Alba has offered a passionate, dynamic view of 17th century New England when Salem's witch trials accused independent-minded women of crimes they did not commit. Superbly plotted, Calligraphy of the Witch is a journey of the heart in which a mother and a daughter must negotiate unjust cultural conflicts between New England and New Spain. The historical precision in the novel crafts the era's mood, creating a world in which characters real and fictional are equally as genuine. Gaspar de Alba proves again that she is a meticulous historical novelist who understands how to write a complex, suspenseful story that also remarks upon our present." Emma Pérez, historian and author of Gulf Dreams
"de Alba's Puritans are as rich and complex as any characters in recent historical fiction." Kirkus Reviews
Thoroughly researched and well-paced, this rich historical novel tells the story of a Latina slave who is swept up in the Salem witchcraft trials by an excruciating act of betrayal.
About the Author
Alicia Gaspar de Alba is a professor and Chair of the César E. Chavez Department for Chicana/Chicano Studies at UCLA. She is the author of Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders, and Sor Juana's Second Dream and lives in Los Angeles, California.
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