I am excited to share a great read with y’all today! Teresa of the New World is a work of historical fiction with a twist of Native American spirituality. I have author Sharman Apt Russell on the blog with a guest post about her journey through the desert, along with my review and a giveaway! I’m just one of the stops on the tour, so be sure to check out the others on the tour schedule.
In 1528, the real-life conquistador Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked in the New World where he lived as a slave, trader, and shaman. In this lyrical weaving of history and myth, the adventurer takes his young daughter Teresa from her home in Texas to travel to outposts in New Spain. Once there, Teresa is left behind as a servant in a Spanish household. But when an epidemic of measles devastates the area, the teenager must set off on a new journey, listening again to the voices of the desert, befriending a war-horse and were-jaguar, sinking into the earth to swim through fossil and stone, reclaiming her power to outwit the cunning figure of Plague. A story of apocalypse and hope, Teresa of the New World takes you into the dreamscape of the sixteenth-century American Southwest.
***** Guest Post *****
We think we are alone, but we are not. Many people live inside us. For those of us who read as children, who lived inside books while we were young, there are fictional characters—Harry Potter, Gollum, Wendy, Karana. There might be animals, if we are lucky. And plants. Sometimes there are entire landscapes.
I am lucky to have the desert live inside me, and the dreamscape of the sixteenth century American Southwest. Around a campfire, under the glittering arc of the Milky Way, the Spanishconquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca sits and dreams of sailing back to Spain. He shivers a bit in the cold and sighs dramatically. He is aware of himself as a stranger in a strange land. He is a traveler and explorer, lost in the New World, and determined to find his way home.
This is the real-life historical story:
In 1528, Cabeza de Vaca was the treasurer of a Spanish expedition which sailed into a Florida bay with four ships, four hundred men, ten women, and eighty horses. The men marched inland, got lost, built barges, set sail again, and shipwrecked along the coast of Texas. Almost everyone died. Among the native Texan tribes, however, Cabeza de Vaca found new employment as a slave, a healer, and a trader. For eight years, he lived naked and hungry, stripped of his identity and his past.
One day he and three other former conquistadors began to walk west to the Spanish outposts of northern Mexico. They became known as the Children of the Sun, strangers who could heal the sick and raise the dead. This extraordinary traveling medicine man show was accompanied by thousands of Native American followers. Finally, the Children of the Sun met up with Spanish soldiers who captured the natives to work in Spanish silver mines. Cabeza de Vaca and his companions went on to Mexico City and eventually back to Spain.
Why am I so fascinated by this story? This journey through the desert?
Cabeza de Vaca wrote about the tribes he lived with in a later report to the king of Spain. He wrote about how they loved their children, how they warred with each other, how they treated their old people, how they danced and drank and celebrated life. He admired them, and he also led them into the hands of Spanish slave hunters. He loved the New World. He also left the New World. He loved the desert. And he left the desert.
I have read the journals and the reports of Cabeza de Vaca over and over. But in the end, when I began my own story about the sixteenth century in the American Southwest, I wasn’t interested in his journey at all. Instead I wrote about a fictional daughter–Teresa, born of a Capoque mother, born in a bay of salty water and too many mosquitos. Teresa was a girl who could listen to the thoughts of animals and plants and sink into the earth. A girl who went on her own journey, through a terrifying New World of plague and violence, through loss and grief. A girl who had to reclaim her own magic and find her own home in the desert.
Now Teresa lives inside me, too. Sometimes she joins her father around the campfire, under the glittering arc of the Milky Way. She has forgiven her father for loving her and then leaving her behind in the New World. She has forgiven him for all the mistakes he made as an explorer and a conquistador. Most often they just sit together and are silent, in the beauty of the desert.
****** Review *****
This is a work of historical fiction, based on the exploits of the excursion of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in the New World. The ships landed near current-day Tampa Bay, Florida in 1528. Cabeza de Vaca along with three other survivors meet up with Spanish slavers in Mexico and become conquistadors, traders, slaves of and shamans of coastal Texas tribes.
However, it is not told from Cabeza de Vaca’s point of view, or the three survivors in his crew. It is told from Teresa, Cabeza de Vaca’s daughter. She tells much of the first portion of the book through her eyes, as an observer of her father, his companions and the work they do. Teresa is special in that she can listen to the earth and the animals, but it is not a gift she truly recognizes until she is older.
As traders, the band of four Spaniards are welcomed by most tribes. After learning that there will be no ship coming to rescue them, Teresa is scooped up and taken along with her father on his journeys where they eventually meet another group of Spaniards and go to the Governor. From there, Cabeza de Vaca continues on his expedition for the King, and after disease ravages the Governor’s house and village, Teresa sets out to find the wise old woman she and her father had meet when she was just a girl.
“I can hear the peccary,” Teresa boasted. “I can hear the earth speak.”
“You are special,” the woman agreed lovingly.
Teresa – She comes from a tribe of generous people. The daughter of a nobelman, the foster daughter of another woman, but also a bastard. She is taught to speak Spanish and learn the faith at a very young age and begins her journey with her father at age five. She is disfigured according to her tribe’s custom of flat heads, and has blue tattoos under each eye. She spends most of her years growing up in the Governor’s household.
More hair grew from his chin and cheeks, although he tried to keep his beard trimmed with an oyster knife. The hair on his head was also gray, mixed with read and brown, an extraordinary color.
Cabeza de Vaca – He is not a good fisherman, hunter or trapper and knows little about plants, but he is a good trader and storyteller. He is Teresa’s father and also known to be an extraordinary healer, and continues on the journey he came to the New World to do.
Dorantes grumbled that he did not want to wait, that he was thirsty, that he was hungry.
Andrés Dorantes – A Christian man who was kept as a slave by a southern coastal tribe.
“You see this as a way to get to Spain. I see this as a test of my immortal soul.”
Alonso del Castillo – A Christian man Teresa notes with “bulging eyes like a frog” and is not on board with his fellow Spanairds making the sacrilegious sign of the Cross. He struggles with the blasphemous things he has done himself, and the healing work that is being performed. Teresa does not like him and he does not liker her.
His skin seemed to blend into the night, and his hair curled like the wool on a buffalo.
Esteban – A black Moor who is slave to Dorantes and later sold. He is kind to Teresa.
This ragtag band of Spanairds travels from tribe to tribe, and become known as healers and men sent from Heaven. They begin to gather a following of Native Americans and collectively they are known as the Children of the Sun.
Cabeza de Vaca has a loving, nurturing relationship with his daughter. He teaches her the basics she needs to know in order to survive in two worlds. The men are at odds with one another because of their faith and Christianity, but do not turn against de Vaca.
Quite honestly, I picked this book to read because it has the same spelling of my mother’s name. All my life people have spelled my mom’s name wrong, so this piqued my interest. When I started reading the synopsis, the historical aspect drew me in. Although this was definitely a little different from my normal read, I had the feeling that it was going to be an intense read. I don’t know why, but every time I looked at the cover or read the synopsis, I got this foreboding that it would be much more than my expectations. I was excited to read about the historical aspect and time period because I love historical, and this was a time period I haven’t read much about, but I am well-versed in Native American tribes so that also sparked my interest.
When I first started reading, it was a struggle for me, because the writing is passive voice. Very passive voice, with a lot of description and detail about what others were doing. It was almost as if Teresa didn’t exist but for a few scenes, and there is a very marked disproportion of narrative voice to dialgoue. Once I got past the writing style and got into the groove, it was better to take in Teresa’s story.
The wise woman looked straight at Cabeza de Vaca, and Teresa felt a shiver of energy up her spine. She felt suddenly lonely and went to lean against her father’s leg. Once he, too, had ridden a horse and carried a long knife. He, too, had worn a magic hat. The future and the past were racing toward each other, and the wind they made prickled the hairs on the back of her neck.
This was the moment when I realized things were getting good, and for Teresa there was no going back. She is caught between two worlds, neither of which she is accepted into as she is. She has been too long gone from her tribe, and the does not fit into the Spanish world. She is taken into the house of the Governor as a servant, to be watched over and cared for by the friar as her father continues on to complete the journey that originally sent him to the New World. A few years later the priest shares his report to the King, and Teresa comes to a realization that hardens her heart.
Her father had written his report to the King of Spain in conversations with her. She had been the page on which he had inscribed himself, setting his life to memory as he lived it, always thinking of what he would say to Charles the Fifth and the royal court, always planning for the time when the Royal Treasurer of the Pánfilo de Naraváez expedition would return to Seville.
Soon after she leaves the Governor’s, setting out in search of the wise old woman. Along the way she meets Horse, who is hesitant to receive Teresa’s attentions, but doesn’t have many options. Then, they meet Boy, who smells like a jaguar and is only about five years old. They continue on their journey and meet a few other interesting characters that pose imminent danger, and Teresa comes to understand how the disease spreads. Crows are a recurring theme throughout the novel.
Along the way, Teresa meets the girl described in the beginning of the book by the earth and does make it to the wise old woman…but it is not how Teresa imagined it would be.
My favorite scenes were the ones where Teresa and Horse conversed. The dialogue and relationship between the two was quite interesting. I also found Teresa’s relationship with Boy comforting as she took on a motherly role and protected him.
This book is quite complex in that it characterizes Plague as an entity, which Teresa know understands. She has figured out how the disease can spread and how to stop spreading it (without medicine). This plays a large part in the latter half of the book and drives the plot.
***** About the Author *****
Sharman Apt Russell has lived in the beauty and magic of Southwestern deserts almost all her life and continues to be amazed by that. She has published over a dozen books translated into a dozen languages, including fiction and nonfiction. Teresa of the New World is her third middle-grade and young adult novel. Sharman teaches graduate writing classes at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, New Mexico and Antioch University in Los Angeles, California and has thrice served as the PEN West judge for their annual children’s literature award. Her awards include a Rockefeller Fellowship, the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Henry Joseph Jackson Award. Her work has been widely anthologized, with numerous starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. The San Francisco Chronicle has said “Russell’s writing is luminous” and Kirkus Reviews wrote, “A deep reverence for nature shines throughout Russell’s rich, enjoyable text.” The Seattle Times described her An Obsession with Butterflies as a “masterpiece of story-telling” and the San Diego Union Tribune called it “A singular work of art, with its smooth, ethereal prose and series after cascading series of astonishing lore.” The New York Times and Discover Magazine both described her book on hunger as “elegant.” Of her Anatomy of a Rose, the Sunday Times (London) said, “Every page holds a revelation.”
***** Giveaway *****
The author will be giving away four (4) signed copies of Teresa of the New World (US) to the winners of the below Rafflecopter. The giveaway ends July 28th.