Following her gorgeous story collection, the National Book Award finalist Sabrina & Corina, Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s first novel opens with a scene of fairy-tale resonance: An abandoned infant of unknown parentage is taken in and raised by a village elder. From that moment on, Woman of Light retains a mythic quality while following the stories of five generations of an Indigenous North American family, from their origins, border crossings, accomplishments and traumas to their descendants’ confrontation and acceptance of their family history.
In 1930s Denver, young Luz Lopez is a launderer who was taught to read tea leaves by her mother. Luz’s brother, Diego, is a snake charmer who works in a factory, and together they live with their aunt Marie Josie. But after Diego is attacked for dating a white woman, he must leave town. Soon after, the visions that have haunted Luz since her childhood return in full force, spelling out the harsh experiences of her ancestors as they navigated the lands between Mexico and Colorado.
Though Luz’s visions drag her back in time to stories from her family’s past, Woman of Light is grounded in Luz’s present. We are immersed in the closeness of the Lopez family, the joyful plans for cousin Lizette’s wedding and Luz’s growing intimacy with childhood friend David Tikas, son of the neighborhood grocer. David hires Luz to be the secretary of his new law office, and the young lawyer’s commitment to progressive causes offers Luz a framework to better understand the racial hostilities and anti-labor movement that plague her community.
Denver plays a starring role in Woman of Light, from the church-sponsored carnivals to the Greek market and the Opportunity School where Luz takes typing classes. The setting provides a rich, multicultural perspective of the American West, and while Fajardo-Anstine underscores the systemic racism in U.S. history (the threat of the Klu Klux Klan is ever present), she never does so at the expense of her characters’ resilience and hope.
Woman of Light is truly absorbing as it chronicles one woman’s journey to claim her own life in the land occupied by her family for generations.