Friday, September 30, 2022

Paths For The Divergent

A curandera was mentioned in my recent review of  the mystery Shutter which centered on a Navajo woman photographer. (See my review of  Shutter here .)  I am now reviewing a book in which a curandera is a major point of view character.  The title is Witches and the author is Brenda Lozano. 



It seems to me that Witches is a somewhat misleading title.   Curanderas are more specialized than witches.  Witches may perform all sorts of magic.  The magic of a curandera is focused on healing.  She also practices a particular Mexican tradition of healing that may have similarities to magical healing practices in other cultures, yet there are also important differences.  I have never believed in erasing unique aspects that occur in the variety of cultures on our planet.  We can then lose wisdom, and are poorer because of it.

Wisdom is not the same as what we learn in school.  I believe that the characters of  Witches demonstrate that this is true.  Yet there is value in schooling. Literacy can broaden your knowledge of cultures other than your own.  The amazingly gifted healer Feliciana was illiterate.  She learned about peoples from outside Mexico when they traveled to meet her.  This normally wouldn't have happened to a woman who grew up in Feliciana's village.  She would have been quite culturally isolated.

If the village had been less isolated, another divergent character could have found connections with others who were like her.   Paloma was born with the name Gaspar and was raised as a male in a family tradition of men who were curanderos.  Curanderos are paranormal healers.   Over time Gaspar began to exhibit the female traits that were natural to her.  She was attacked for becoming who she was meant to be.  In Mexico she was considered a muxe, which is a third gender.  She called herself Paloma.  Few people in this village could accept Paloma, even though Paloma was the one who taught Feliciana who  became a powerful curandera. 

We learn that Feliciana and her sister Francisca first began to eat the hallucinogenic mushrooms that were tools for healing because there wasn't enough food.  It's sad that a family that had been healers for generations were so impoverished.

In the next generation of what had been a family of curanderos and curanderas, the divergent one was Leandra.  Leandra was a rebel who started fires and was kicked out of schools.   She told her sister Zoe that she had gotten married to a girl.  She asked Zoe not to tell their parents because she hadn't invited them to the wedding.  I suspect her parents wouldn't have come if they had been invited.  Leandra doesn't seem to have any awareness of the existence of homophobia.  

Professionally, Leandra wanted to be an art photographer whose work is exhibited in galleries.  The first time this happened, Leandra had three photos chosen for a group show.  Leandra's work attracted the interest of a collector who specialized in Latin American woman artists.

I liked this book dealing with unconventional people very much and decided to give it a B+ which is four stars on Goodreads. 

Monday, September 12, 2022

Female Navajo Photographer Protagonist in a Mystery

 In order to make sure I would get a mystery read in September, I got one picked out even before I'd arrived at the halfway point. It was Shutter by Ramona Emerson.  The copy I'm reviewing is a library book.  The protagonist is a photographer which isn't all that unusual.  I've reviewed several books with photographer protagonists -- most recently Michael Angelo & the Stone Mistress by Steve Moretti.  Yet this is my first female Navajo photographer protagonist. 



As the book opens, Navajo Rita Todacheene is a forensic photographer.  This means that she photographs crime scenes. Yet she also sees spirits which isn't a trait that would be considered compatible with professionalism in most work environments.  Needless to say, Rita must be careful not to reveal her paranormal gift  to officers in the Albuquerque PD. 

Being paranormally gifted, isn't the only way that Rita's job is problematic. I also knew that the Navajo avoid mentioning the dead or even the names of dead relatives.  So it seemed to me that Rita's job was extremely incompatible with her culture. 

The issue of the Navajo belief that the spirits of the dead (called "chindi" in mysteries by Tony Hillerman) could contaminate them, arose when Grandma took Rita to a church where ghosts were lingering.  I wondered why Navajo spirits of the dead would linger if they believed they were contaminating people that they loved.  Her grandfather's spirit worried that inimical spirits could make Rita crazy.

 I was interested in the fact that Rita's neighbor was evidently a curandera.  Curandismo is a a Mexican healing tradition. She rubbed Rita with an egg, then she cracked the egg into a glass of water and told Rita to put the egg in the glass of water under her bed.  "Whoever has their eye on you will let you go," said the curandera.  There were also jars to put in each corner of the room.  Rita thought it was superstition.  I think that Rita's lack of belief in the measures that Rita's neighbor was taking to protect Rita would undermine their efficacy.



Rita learned Police Lieutenant Garcia was behind most of the local distribution of meth. This was a major revelation.  I wondered if Garcia did that because Latinos were being discriminated against when it came to advancement in the police department.  


End spoilers.>

It was mentioned in this book that Saint Veronica is the patron saint of photography.  Since I had never heard this before, I looked for a confirming link.  I found it at St. Veronica which links to a page about this saint's connection to photography.  Since Rita doesn't seem to be a devout Catholic, I didn't think that St. Veronica would have been significant for Rita.

There is a positive resolution to the book from a law enforcement perspective.  I decided to give Shutter a B+.