This epic yet intimate story shows three generations of women trying to make a life in the perilous ’30s American West.
Good to know
“There is one every generation—a seer who keeps the stories.”
Luz “Little Light” Lopez, a tea leaf reader and laundress, is left to fend for herself after her older brother, Diego, a snake charmer and factory worker, is run out of town by a violent white mob. As Luz navigates 1930s Denver on her own, she begins to have visions that transport her to her Indigenous homeland in the nearby Lost Territory. Luz recollects her ancestors’ origins, how her family flourished and how they were threatened. She bears witness to the sinister forces that have devastated her people and their homelands for generations. In the end, it is up to Luz to save her family stories from disappearing into oblivion.
Written in Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s singular voice, the wildly entertaining and complex lives of the Lopez family fill the pages of this multigenerational western saga. Woman of Light is a transfixing novel about survival, family secrets, and love, filled with an unforgettable cast of characters, all of whom are just as special, memorable, and complicated as our beloved heroine, Luz.
Woman of Light
The Sleepy Prophet and the Child from Nowhere
The Lost Territory, 1868
The night Fertudez Marisol Ortiz rode on horseback to the northern pueblo Pardona, a secluded and modest village, the sky was so filled with stars it seemed they hummed. Thinking this good luck, Fertudez didn’t cry as she left her newborn on the banks of an arroyo, turkey down wrapped around his body, a bear claw fastened to his chest.
“Remember your line,” she whispered, before she mounted her horse and galloped away.
In Pardona, Land of Early Sky, the elder Desiderya Lopez dreamt of stories in her sleep. The fireplace glowed in her clay home as she whistled snores through dirt walls, her breath dissipating into frozen night. She would have slept soundly until daybreak, but the old woman was pulled awake by the sounds of plodding hooves and chirping crickets, the crackling of burnt cedar, an interruption between dawn and day.
“Enough is enough,” Desiderya muttered and cursed as she slow-rolled from bed onto her balled feet, the noises maddening as she stood. Her back was permanently bent in a slight L, and her long, woven skirt brushed the floor matted in sheepskin. She wrapped herself in a white shawl, and slid her hands into fox-fur mittens, fingerless to easily handle her tobacco. Her pipe was formed of mica clay, and the sparkling burn illuminated Desiderya’s grooved face as she hobbled toward the door, soon fastening a red handkerchief beneath her broad chin. The warmth of her breath tried to linger inside the home, but Desiderya hacked into a phlegmy cough and wrangled the air back into her lungs. You’re coming with me, she spoke and walked outside.
Why I love it
Award-winning Broadway singer, actor, and author
Every family has that member, the one with the memory of an elephant, who with ease can recount generations’ worth of stories about the family tree (and its roots). If we are smart, we venerate this kin. In a very literal sense, they are our direct line to our history. They help light our way with the lessons of our past. Woman of Light, Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s dazzling debut novel, is a direct embodiment of this tradition and a gift to every reader enthralled by a good family saga.
Centered around three generations of the Lopez family, Woman of Light takes place primarily in 1930s Denver—a place and time where the west remained wild. At the heart of this story is Luz “Little Light” Lopez. She is a young woman on the margins of the margins, living with her older brother and aunt and eking out a living as a laundress and occasional tea leaf reader. Luz also possesses great tenacity and a profound connection to her ancestors. Over the many remarkable pages of this novel, Luz serves as a compelling witness to history unfolding in real time. She sees halting progress, but also rising violence and social tensions. At the center of it all, Luz is on a journey to see what is inside of herself as a young woman coming into her own. What do the leaves hold for us really? She faces that question boldly time and again and wins the reader over each time.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine is quickly establishing herself as one of our modern masters. Her sentences sing and her grasp of character and atmosphere is vividly cinematic. Pick up this book and gift yourself the chance to read a genuinely remarkable novel!
Member ratings (5,547)
Bothell , WA
Possibly my favorite BOTM to date. Beautiful language and exquisitely rendered characters - don’t buy it for the plot as that’s rather hard to trace. But the scenes and sense of place are worth it.
Fort Collins , CO
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Not only was it a courageous and harrowing story but it also beautifully written and I found myself smiling often at the vivid descriptions that inspired all my senses.
Brooklyn , NY
It took me a second to really dive into the story, but once I did, let me tell you, I was INVESTED. Family is messy, complicated and at the end of the day all we have. Loved everything about this book
Topeka , KS
Beautifully written, full of insightful descriptions of characters and gorgeous imagery. The characters had depth & humanity, and their stories of surviving hardships across generations were riveting.
This book was so beautiful. Equally about the story and the mirror it offers for you to view yourself and your own history if you dare. A story that continues to echo through my thoughts. Beautiful.