Sandra Ramos O’Briant’s debut novel The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood sets the stage for a fascinating series about Anglo/Hispanic interaction in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the struggle to control the Santa Fe Trail. The author introduces the Sandoval sisters Oratoria, Pilar and Alma who are independent and resistant to the restrictions placed on women in that place and time. Each controls her own destiny, making unconventional choices and always standing by family and friends.
Told in the sisters’ voices, the reader learns of each woman’s loves and losses and follows them on their trail to the end of the novel when the sisters need to come together to preserve their lands and livelihood from the new legal system that threatens the patrimony of many in what is now the Southwest United States.
Oratoria, the eldest, is not a sister by blood. Purchased at age five for the price of a bag of flour, Oratoria was originally Estevan’s gift to his lonely sixteen-year-old bride. Oratoria becomes a family favorite and indispensable to them all, truly integrated as a family member. She is the keeper of the old diaries that provide insight into the Sandoval heritage as well as instruction on cures and spells. She raises her sisters, making sure they are educated and independent thinkers. She is there when they need her and sacrifices herself to protect their livelihood.
Headstrong Alma, determined to not marry her father’s choice for her, runs off with the love of her life (Bill) only to discover once they arrive at his family home that she really does not know him as well as she thought. Cultural clashes between her Spanish background and his Anglo family, clashes with his domineering, mean spirited mother and betrayal by a woman she believed was her friend present the reader with an interesting read and better understanding of the climate of the times and the challenges faced by those who married across boundaries.
The youngest sister Pilar is more of a free spirit than the other two sisters yet she is most suited to marriage to Alma’s rejected elderly suitor, Geraldo. Because of his patience and maturity, Geraldo provides Pilar the blessing of love but more importantly, independence and autonomy. Pilar is able to fend for herself (and others) upon his death. She is more than up to the challenge presented by being one of the landed, moneyed families of the region.
Woven among the stories of love and life is eroticism, mystery, witchcraft, folktales, superstition, political intrigue, corruption, violence, and told with a fluid style that grabs you from the first page and leaves you hungry for more at the end.
About the Author: Sandra Ramos O’Briant‘s work has appeared in numerous journals, including Label Me Latina/o. In addition, her short stories have been anthologized in Best Lesbian Love Stories of 2004, What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest (University of Texas Press, Spring 2007), Latinos in Lotus Land: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature, (Bilingual Press, 2008), Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery (Arte Publico (2009), and The Mom Egg (Half Shell Press, 2010). A complete list of her work can be found at www.thesandovalsisters.com
The Latina title for her has been hard won because growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico no one would accept that her mother was Mexican. The O’Briant last name tagged her gringa and put her on the outside looking in. But the outsider condition led to observing, and listening, and longing, all of which informs her writing.
Dr. Michele Shaul, Professor, Department of Foreign Languages Queens University of Charlotte