By Izzy Stringham
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s new full-length novel, “Woman of Light”, is especially delightful for those who live in Colorado. The story centers around Luz Lopez and her extended family living in 1930s Denver. Having come from the Lost Territory, now the area that encompasses Southern Colorado, New Mexico and the Mexican border, Luz is living somewhat in the shadows. Born to an Indigenous mother and white father, and abandoned by them with her brother, her opportunities in Denver are severely limited due to her mixed-race status. She lives with an aunt, reading tea leaves, working as a laundress and then as an assistant, always hoping for more and struggling against the headwind of racism and bigotry that was a part of daily life in the 1930s.
The novel is told in several sections. There are viewpoints from the present in Luz’s life, sections on the past — her mother and grandparents’ stories and struggles — and, eventually, the novel lines up the events in their lives that lead to the current story Luz is living. These connections are celebrated and essential, giving the work so much depth and texture. It is striking how decisions made by someone in the past consistently have a direct effect on the line of people who come after them, and that our collective connection to ancestry is rich and deep. This universal theme weaves through much of “Woman of Light”; there are the ancestors that live within us, and they set us on our paths.
Fajardo-Anstine’s prose and description of the era, especially Denver in the 1930s, is sweeping and lush. Sentence after sentence is so perfectly rendered to evoke the time, the emotion, the history of a city that doesn’t get much attention in historical novels. The truth of the times is not ignored; labor strikes, wrongful death, bigotry, Klan marches and lack of opportunity have their place. The endless hard work of immigrants, as well as non-white residents who had been displaced from the area of their ancestry, to rise above the struggle of just surviving is another theme explored in depth.
Luz, her brother, aunt and her best friend embody so much of what is essential in community. Their love and support in the face of bad decisions, their loss, their fight to survive in a world that doesn’t want them, make for an emotional and satisfying read. “Woman of Light” is one to savor and keep close, a gorgeous depiction of Colorado and the love of generations of family.
Copies of “Woman of Light” are available at White River Books in downtown Carbondale.