Book Title: Jesusita by Ronald L. Ruiz
Category: Adult fiction, 275 pages
Publisher: Amika Press
Jesusita is the story of immigrants—legal and illegal—trying to survive in California in the years after World War II. Jesusita, alone and impoverished, struggles to keep her four young children together. Though she finds support from Padre Montes at St. Teresa’s Catholic Church, her faith won’t solve her problems, especially those with her daughter, Paulina. Far from home, Filipino laborers are denied by law any contact with white women. Angie, the young daughter of an illiterate and unmarried mother, knows only one way to make money. And Felix, abandoned by his mother and separated from his only brother, is placed in a foster home on an isolated ranch. The interrelated lives of these people provide a complex, sometimes violent, and often tragic image of American poverty within the nation’s postwar boom.
Meet the author – Ronald L Ruiz
After reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment at the age of 17, I knew I wanted to be a writer. But I knew nothing about the craft. My first novel, Happy Birthday Jesús, was published 36 years later. Surprisingly, it received good reviews.
For many years, I was a criminal defense attorney and at the end of my career a prosecutor, but I always managed to find time to write. What I saw and experienced during those years often serves as a basis for my writing. For me, learning how to write has been a long, continuous and, at times, torturous process.
Now retired, I try to write every day and I feel fortunate that I have found something in writing that sustains me. I’m glad I persevered during all those years of rejection. More than anything, writing about what I see and experience in life has given me a sense of worth.
When migrant worker Jesusita’s husband is killed, she has to struggle to feed and look after four children. She attempts to make a living picking fruit in California. Her new situation causes her to be frustrated and often harsh with her children, especially her daughter, Paulina.
Her life changes when she has a deeply religious experience on a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of the Virgen de Gaudalupe. She then becomes very active in the local church and a friend of the local priest, who later defends her evil ways.
Her religious involvement though does not reflect on her life and she continues to rage against Paulina, who she beats severely. To keep from being found out, she keeps Paulina out of school after each beating. Tragically, after one severe beating and a struggle on the river bank, Paulina is swept away by the current. Jesusita struggles with the questions being put to her by the police and neighbours as well as her own questions as to what exactly happened. To convince herself that she was not wrong, she evens begins to believe that Paulina was possessed by the devil. Slowly, she becomes ill in body and mind which naturally leads to her family being in dire straits.
Through the book there are a few subplots – the story of a 6 year old girl who being paid for sexual favours by migrant workers and a boy who is adopted yet shunned by his foster mother even though he is a good worker.
The author gives us a deep insight into the lives of these migrant workers who struggle with so many issues. He also shows the racial discrimination experienced by Mexican and Filipino workers in California after World War II.
I found this book pulled me in with all the raw emotions it dealt with. It seemed a very relevant read in the light of the continued racial discrimination and harsh conditions faced by migrant workers in America today.
I would certainly recommend it to you.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from iRead Book Tours to review. However, the opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.