Claire Ibarra’s Fragile Saints is a captivating novel about heritage and injustices of the past.
I was delighted to discover many parallels to a book I’ve been working on for quite some time. That novel is about family secrets and the shadows of the Dutch colonial presence in Indonesia. Ibarra, however, took me to a country virtually unknown to me: Peru.
Elsa, a forty something American woman, recently divorced and frustrated at work, losing confidence in herself, travels to Peru to say goodbye to her dying abuela. Happy memories soon flood her, of times spent together on the hacienda and stories shared.
“When visiting their grandmother’s house, they had been invited into another era, another world where time passed slowly, where family was abundant, and Angelica’s doting, maternal instincts oozed out of her like honey from a hive.”
But something darker surfaces, too. Elsa is haunted by strange dreams and her grandmother’s last confessions that have thrown new light on her family’s past. When the old lady dies and Elsa inherits the house in the Andes mountains with her brother, she feels compelled to stay there, despite the dangers; a murder was committed in the house a long time ago, leaving evil in its wake, and insurgents roam the area.
The more Elsa learns about her family’s curses and crimes, the more she understands herself.
“Elsa figured her own troubles were just part of a long line of misfortunes in her family. The collapse of her dream of having a family was part of a greater web of loss, plagues, and death.”
Although scared at first, she later welcomes the ghosts who visit her at night, as though she needs to accept the past to forge her future.
A future in Peru or in the USA? With or without the handsome local doctor? Is there a way for her to repent for what happened? Or will the dead weigh on her forever?
This magical novel from Claire Ibarra is rich with beautiful descriptions and lush details. I was there with Elsa, watching the silk moths mate and plucking papayas from the tree. I felt her need for connection.
“Her heart fluttered with the desire to live, to connect to her loved ones, and inside her chest it felt like the flapping of those desperate silk moths, so fragile yet eager to attract a mate before they fade away and die.”
Fragile Saints is a layered, haunting novel that asks important questions and leaves you with hope.
Fragile Saints, Claire Ibarra, Adelaide Books, 2021
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