"As perfect as the beads of a rosary."
-Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street
"Fresh, magical, beautiful, evocative" says Lisa See, about this wonderful first novel by Alex Espinoza. Still Water Saints chronicles a momentous year in the life of Agua Mansa, a largely Latino town beyond the fringes of Los Angeles and home to the Botýnica Oshýn, where people come seeking charms, herbs, and candles. Above all, they seek the guidance of Perla Portillo, the shop's owner. Perla has served the community for years, arming her clients with the tools to overcome all manner of crises, large and small. There is Juan, a man coming to terms with the death of his father; Nancy, a recently married schoolteacher; Shawn, an addict looking for peace in his chaotic life; and Rosa, a teenager trying to lose weight and find herself. But when a customer with a troubled and mysterious past arrives, Perla struggles to help and must confront both her unfulfilled hopes and doubts about her place in a rapidly changing world.
Imaginative, inspiring, lyrical, and beautifully written, Still Water Saints evokes the unpredictability of life and the resilience of the spirit through the journeys of the people of Agua Mansa, and especially of the one woman at the center of it all. Theirs are stories of faith and betrayal, love and loss, the bonds of family and community, and the constancy of change.
From the Hardcover edition.
Perla Portillo, 72, owns the unofficial spiritual center of the Southern California Agua Mansa community: at Botýnica Oshn, she doles out relics, potions and sage advice to clients coping with death, wrestling with transsexual identity and seeking refuge from sexual predation. In telling their stories, Espinoza skillfully weaves together the alternating narrative viewpoints of Perla and her customers. Poignantly rendered are Azcar, a transgendered dancer who is given an unexpected chance at motherhood while mourning the loss of a friend, and Rodrigo Zamora, a Michoacýn teen illegal recovering from a traumatic crossing. Encroaching violence in the community shakes Perla's confidence in the talismanic power of her wares and words. The significance of her constant presence amid the changing situation is clear to many of her returning customers, but Perla must redefine her position within the community in order to find strength to change along with the world. The parade of affliction can get wearisome, and Espinoza, making his debut, doesn't quite bring Perla all the way into focus. But he handles the proceedings with a steady, well-rounded reportage that suits the story. (Feb. 6)
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-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 31, 2007
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Excerpt from Still Water Saints by Alex Espinoza
She could walk on water.
She roamed the banks of the Santa Ana, among the long green stalks, chanting to the moon, to the gods of Night and Shadow. She rose and stepped onto the river, her footsteps gently rippling the surface.
She summoned the spirits of the dead. They whispered their secrets to her, and she scribbled their messages on scraps of paper and in the margins of her phone book:
Tell Ramýn the locket fell on the floor between the bed and the nightstand.
I'm all right. It's like Disneyland up here, only without rides.
I don't miss my ears because they were too big.
She fought the Devil. Every night he came to her, his head crowned with horns, his skin covered in scales. He cursed and called her names. She beat him back with her bare hands and sent him running, his cloven feet tapping against the tile of her kitchen floor.
She was a Bruja. A Santa. A Divina. A Medium, Prophet, and Healer. Able to pass through walls and read minds, to pull tumors from ailing bodies, to uncross hexes and spells, to raise the dead, and to stop time. When doctors failed, when priests and praying were not enough, the people of Agua Mansa came to the Botýnica Oshýn, to Perla. The shop sold amulets and stones, rosaries and candles. They bought charms to change their luck, teas to ease unsettled nerves, and estampas of saints, the worn plastic cards they carried in their purses or wallets for protection.
As thanks the customers brought her booklets of coupons and long strips of lottery tickets. They gave her fresh bouquets of roses and carnations. They showed her pictures of aunts and uncles she had helped see through heart surgeries and hip replacements. They brought in the children she had saved from drug addictions and prison sentences. They told her of the abusive husbands and gambling wives she had chased away for good. Men often grew uneasy in her presence. The women always opened up.