The first questions posed by the book manager of my Booktrope publishing team, Mindy Halleck, were to name my favorite books and the authors I admire most. As it turns out, we share an affinity for Rumi, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and the author Arundhati Roy. My list also includes Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Sandra Cisneros and Milan Kundera, whose books, even if I haven’t a clue what the new book is about, I will buy without hesitation. That’s the way it is when you love how a writer makes you feel when you read their books. We follow them hand in hand to exotic locales and revisit cities that, through the author’s words and glimpses into their mind’s eye, we experience in a new way. The exquisite novel, Gabriela and the Widow, masterfully written by award-winning author Jack Remick, is such a book. The author, who also teaches writing, about life and is a mentor to many, has become one of those writers for me.
From the day I ordered, Gabriela and the Widow, I wondered if the author could get inside a woman’s mind and make me believe. I pondered how the characters of Gabriela and the widow, would come across to me from a man’s perspective and how the author would write about women’s emotions, behaviors, longings, and their inner turmoil as most of the characters in this book are women of differing ages, backgrounds and life experiences.
When my book arrived, despite running late for a lunch engagement, I read the back cover and the first chapter and fell in love with Gabriela. The prose is beautiful and the author’s descriptions, such as the passage below, will cause you, perhaps like me, to go back for another taste.
“In the heat that day, the smells of the market rose up thick as mole-a feast of banana and papaya, a banquet of chirimoya and mango-juices flowing in the heat and, on the air, thick scents mingled with the chirp of parrots in cages and the whine of frightened monkeys on chains squatting in cast-off orange peels and pineapple husks, mixing with the brown shells of coconuts. By the fountain that day, the trickle of water lay like a snake skin on the roiling smells and in that cleft, at the corner of the church, Gabriela watched her elegant patrona in her short black dress, a jade necklace gleaming in the light, an elegance that brought happiness to Gabriella’s cheeks because she worked for that fancy woman.”
The story, at times heartbreaking and raw, opens with the nineteen-year-old Mixteca, Gabriela, fleeing the destruction of her Mexican village. Through a series of events, she ends up in Santa Cruz, California and seems to fall into less than desirable situations with people who take advantage of her. She is naive, unworldly and hopes the next kindness a person shows her, will in some way, save her. While working in Santa Cruz, Gabriela is hired to look after an elderly widow but, in fact it is the widow who decides that the young woman can stay by testing her integrity and character.
La viuda, the widow, realizes that she is losing her memory and is desperate for a record of her life. Gabriela begins organizing the widow’s Lists, photographs and the contents of four special boxes that contain her patrona’s toenail and hair clippings. Gabriela makes it her mission to solve the puzzles of the widow’s Lists and in the process, discovers the strength to deal with the memories of her village’s destruction and the strength to exact revenge on the people who perpetrated the atrocities.
I loved how mirrors enabled Gabriela to look at her painful past. It is when she looks at her reflection that we discover what the young woman has gone through and begin to understand her better.
As a Spanish language speaker, I admire the seamless transitions of the author from English to Spanish and back again, without missing a beat. There is so much to learn about great writing from reading Jack Remick’s books. I don’t mind confessing that my copy of the book is full of highlighted passages and descriptions and on more than one page, there are my hand-written notes in the margins. At one point, I put down the highlighter and went back to the beginning of the book. I’m glad I did but, rest assured that I will return to this book, highlighter in hand.
The characters of Gabriela and la viuda have remained with me since I read the last line and closed the book. Jack Remick is a master storyteller, an intuitive man and a writer of the highest caliber. With Gabriela and The Widow, my first introduction to the author, he has gained a new fan. I highly recommend this book to you. I am excited to read his highly acclaimed book, Blood next.