The Festival Of San Joaquin — Zee Edgell (1997)
Setting: Modern Belize
What it’s about: Sadness drips from every page. The story jumps back and forth between different scenes in a tragic life of a woman just released from jail after killing her violent, alcoholic husband. It is a hard read because the sheer force of emotions, delivered in simple, unadorned prose just takes your breath away as the hero, Luz Marina (meaning light of the sea), struggles against poverty, class divisions and domestic violence, compelling you into deeper sympathy with the doomed effort to rebuild a life.
This book is another hidden gem from the flawless Caribbean Writers Serieswhich exposes a world beyond the tourist photos that most people think of.
Luz Marina tells us how she saved a rich woman’s life and was sent to work for her — (how she saw the food on the table, feels hungry, but asks for nothing, and hides her dirty feet):
“I though of telling her that I wanted to be a teacher but I didn’t and the moment passed….My parents were hoping that with my help, Concha and Perla would go to high school.”
The best book from Belize? Yes, because of the subtle mix of politics and culture, full of rich characters and haunting family histories, with religion and superstition intermingling, especially around the festival:
“A house, it is said here in San Joaquin, has, depending on the circumstances surrounding its construction, the power of destroying the families who live in it.”
Zee Edgell, journalist, professor, activist, has written more books in a similar vein, including the critically-acclaimed Beka Lamb.
For you if you like: A Golden Age above (a mother trying to build a life so that she can convince society to let her raise her children), or, again Colm Toibin or Alice Munro.
Rating: *** (A breathtakingly (you literally need to pause for breath at times) tragic account of lives destroyed by alcohol and poverty.)