Rabeea Saleem

Set in the tourist town of Ciudad de Tres Hermanas, Jamie Figueroa’s debut novel centers on two bereaved half siblings, Rufina and Rafa, as they navigate their palpable grief. Four months after their mother’s death, they are still reeling from her crushing loss, which Figueroa captures in vivid, evocative prose: “Grief waited at the edges, sniffing the boundaries of their bodies, waiting to be let in.” The ghost of their mother literally hovers nearby as the siblings try to reckon with her death.

Rufina, desperate to help her disconsolate brother, decides they will take to the streets to perform for white tourists. Perhaps if they make enough money over the weekend, they can move away and escape their misery.

Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer combines folklore with magical realism in a manner reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Along with ghosts who appear as recurring characters, the prose is cut with imagery and metaphor in rhythmic patterns, adding another otherworldly element to the story.

Figueroa addresses important issues, including depression, suicide and personal and generational loss, with nuanced insight. She also skewers the tendency of white Americans to exoticize people with darker skin, portraying the impact of this prejudice in a deeply stirring manner. A lyrical contemplation of how we can never run away from our past, Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer is an exquisitely woven story about resilience and trauma.

Ghosts hover over Jamie Figueroa’s debut, a lyrical contemplation of how we can never run away from our past.

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