As some of you may know, long-time Mexico resident (originally from NOB), and WritingFromMerida’s author, Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado recently published her first novel, The Woman Who Wanted the Moon. After reading the first 30-odd pages, which can be read for free on Amazon’s website, I was hooked, bought the Kindle version, and finished it in two days.
This book was a real page-turner. From the initial scene, where a handsome ex-lover frantically pounds on Amalia’s door one night as he flees the police, to the final scene in Mérida where Amalia ultimately attains her goal, this book doesn’t have a single dull moment. There are moments of high drama and tension, such as the description of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake that destroyed large parts of the city. And there are steamy love scenes like the one you can read for free on Amazon’s site in the opening chapter of the book. Throw in an elder nanny who’s a clairvoyant shaman, a gay brother and his lover, add a second handsome lover who’s pursuing Amalia, and you’ve got a book that’s hard to put down.
Van der Gracht de Rosado’s novel takes place in Mexico during the turbulent years between the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, ordered to quell student protests on the eve of Mexico’s hosting of the Olympics, through the period of the late 80’s when the country is beginning to prosper under NAFTA. But this isn’t a historical novel about national development. It’s torrid love story about a woman passionately torn between two handsome men, both of whom make her heart beat faster. Alejandro is a determined political activist, college professor, and self-absorbed narcissist struggling against Mexico’s repressive, one-party government. Strikingly handsome, with dark curly hair, he and Amalia had a torrid late teens romance, but he ultimately left her for another woman. Yet despite how he has treated her, Amalia can’t quell her desire for him even ten years later when he bursts into her apartment unexpectedly. But after that, complications develop, and she decides to move from Mexico City back to her childhood home in Mérida, Yucatán, taking her shaman nanny with her. There she starts a new life, with the help of her gay brother and his gringo lover. But things aren’t so simple. The government is still oppressing students, and Amalia has to fight to get an architecture school started at the University of Yucatán. Toward the end of her studies there, she meets a handsome professor of architecture from Mexico City, and the chemistry is instantaneous and white-hot. Yet she still longs for Alejandro. Now a fully licensed architect, as she struggles with conflicting desires, the 1985 earthquake devastates Mexico City, and she returns to help rebuild. There she must come to terms with her family past, and make some crucial decisions about her future.
I don’t read many novels these days (perhaps I should), but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The dialog is snappy, and the novel is full of twists and turns, though not so much that they stretch credibility. Sure, there are a couple of rough spots as you would expect in any first novel. Some of the dialog sounds remarkably 21st century American, somewhat surprising for a novel that takes place in the 70’s and 80’s in Mexico. I also found Hortensia’s speech a bit hard to square with her background as a Mayan villager, who was little-educated. And I would have enjoyed bit more description of the scenes in and around Mérida, and the various parts of Mexico City. But none of that detracts from a terrific story that would make an excellent and fast-paced movie. In fact, from the perspective of a director, the novel provides a very compelling story, and from a cinematic perspective, all the details would be filled in by the sets, and locations chosen.
To the positive, the reader can really feel Amalia’s inner conflict and how tough it is for her to make the right decisions. I know I’ve fallen myself for guys like Alejandro, and they never make life easy, though they are exciting. The description of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake was quite vivid, and really conveyed the tension of that event as seen through the eyes of a Chilanga who couldn’t contact her family there in initial days after the disaster. Other high points include the love scenes, which are passionate and sexy, without being too graphic. You can really feel the erotic tension, but don’t need to worry about leaving the book around for your kids to find. I also enjoyed the scenes which had taken place in various spots in Mexico where I’ve been. It’s always fun to read a novel that touches you in a personal way.
I really enjoyed the story, and I’d highly recommend going to Amazon’s site and at least reading the first thirty pages, which can be read for free by clicking on the picture of the cover. If you can read the opener without buying the book, then you are more resistant than I.