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Conquistadora [Kindle Edition]

Esmeralda Santiago
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.95
Kindle Price: $11.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

An epic novel of love, discovery, and adventure by the author of the best-selling memoir When I Was Puerto Rican.

As a young girl growing up in Spain, Ana Larragoity Cubillas is powerfully drawn to Puerto Rico by the diaries of an ancestor who traveled there with Ponce de León. And in handsome twin brothers Ramón and Inocente—both in love with Ana—she finds a way to get there. She marries Ramón, and in 1844, just eighteen, she travels across the ocean to a remote sugar plantation the brothers have inherited on the island.

Ana faces unrelenting heat, disease and isolation, and the dangers of the untamed countryside even as she relishes the challenge of running Hacienda los Gemelos. But when the Civil War breaks out in the United States, Ana finds her livelihood, and perhaps even her life, threatened by the very people on whose backs her wealth has been built: the hacienda’s slaves, whose richly drawn stories unfold alongside her own. And when at last Ana falls for a man who may be her destiny—a once-forbidden love—she will sacrifice nearly everything to keep hold of the land that has become her true home.

This is a sensual, riveting tale, set in a place where human passions and cruelties collide: thrilling history that has never before been brought so vividly and unforgettably to life.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

Francisco Goldman Reviews Conquistadora

Francisco Goldman is the author of Say Her Name, The Art of Political Murder, and The Ordinary Seaman. He lives in New York City and Mexico City.

Conquistadora is many vivid things all at once, and for the reader, they happen in your body, imagination and soul. It’s a swashbuckling adventure, visceral and ardent; it’s a historical novel so seamlessly told that you don’t realize your heart’s pounding even as your brain’s amassing a wealth of fascinating new knowledge. This is a book that is like that one small island you’ve been longing for since the great adventure and pirate stories of childhood. But the island is real, and this novel tells a real story--an important piece of history--that has never been told before. It’s a story about Puerto Rico, Esmeralda Santiago’s birthplace, and it shows us the island in a way that we’ve never seen before.

Here also is a portrait of characters I came to know and to care about, far from the usual New World stock cast of rapacious and greedy Spanish plantation owners chasing after slave and Creole girls. I was especially intrigued from the start by Ana, whom we first meet as a teenager in a convent in Seville in 1826, bent over the yellowing pages of some journals. (I have an established proclivity for historical novels that begin in convents!) Ana’s story, as every feisty convent girl’s life story should, begins and ends with rebellion: those journals belong to an ancestor of hers who journeyed to Puerto Rico with Ponce de Leon, and when Ana travels there just after her eighteenth birthday, she is a señorita de buena familia rebelling against expectations--of her class, her gender, and the time period. By 1865, she’s rich: a wealthy plantation owner on the island. She’s lost none of her fire. But when the slaves on whom her sugarcane business was built catch the winds of change when Lincoln is elected in the US, she may lose it all. In the decades in between, Ana loves and loses, and finds her true home and her destiny. Puerto Rico, like many tropical “paradises,” turns out to be not the fantasy she’d dreamed on, but a harsh land with harsh realities--a place that rewards only the toughest. The surprising Ana is an irresistible heroine despite the history she carries. She is a woman of her time, for good or ill. A woman who by the end of this sweeping story, comes to define her life not just by all that she has conquered but also all that she has lost. Most importantly, she lives in the reader’s imagination.

Conquistadora is a novel that surpassed my every expectation. It brings a hitherto unknown swath of history alive through great storytelling and narrative verve.

Esmeralda Santiago has written a brilliant and blazingly alive novel, as engrossing and just plain fun as any I have read in a long while.


“Santiago brings passion, color, and historical detail to this Puerto Rican Gone with the Wind, featuring a hard-as-nails heroine more devoted to her plantation than to any of the men in her life . . . Ana grows up the willful daughter of aristocratic parents during the waning years of Spain’s colonial era. [She is] a not-so-innocent convent girl who marries her best friend’s fiancé’s twin brother, then heads to Puerto Rico without her friend, but with both twins in tow. The young men intend to make their fortunes, but it is Ana who has the savvy and determination to persevere through hurricanes, slave revolts, cholera and any other challenge the island has to offer. . . Santiago makes Caribbean history come alive through characters as human as they are iconic. The richness of her imagination and the lushness of her language will serve saga enthusiasts well, and she provides readers a massive panorama of plantation life—plus all you could ever want to know and more about growing sugar cane.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Extraordinary . . . a historical novel set in 19th Puerto Rico, featuring a high-handed, strong-willed woman determined to escape her boring upper-class future in Spain. When twin brothers inherit a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico, Ana marries them (who can tell them apart?), and they embark on what for the brothers is a lark, but for Ana is serious business. From the start, she takes to the land and the work of processing cane in the Caribbean, keeping the slaves inherited with the property and adding to their number over the years. She becomes the very image of a conquering hero: implacable, outspoken, demanding. Her husbands languish and fade while Ana runs Hacienda los Gemelos without their help. The issues of social caste, slavery, and sex roles make this a fascinating read. It’s an outstanding story, full of pathos, tropical sensuality, and violence&...

Product Details

  • File Size: 3663 KB
  • Print Length: 434 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 030738859X
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (July 12, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004G60EOG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,450 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
84 of 87 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Page-Turner May 18, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Born in a time when ladies of Spain's high society are expected to be prim and proper, petite main character Ana is an unwelcome force of nature. So unwelcome that her parents abscond her to a convent school (where she meets her best friend and lover, the angelic Elena) and her grandparent's estate (where the history of her ancestors sets her mind and passions on fire).

To Ana, the future is a prison of corsets, parlor halls, and disapproving glances. She hatches a desperate - yet adventuresome - plan to secure her freedom. But to make things work, Ana has to give up bigger and bigger pieces of her soul until the admirably headstrong young girl becomes a cold and twisted warden-- to her husband, her plantation slaves, and ultimately even herself.

Starting with a brief look at the indigenous Boricuas of Puerto Rico and ending with the impact of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, Santiago seamlessly blends history throughout the story. My husband and I found CONQUISTADORA to be a true page-turner.

The book is not without its flaws, however: Santiago sometimes abruptly introduces a new point of view for reasons that become apparent only much later (or sometimes not at all). While her extensive character biographies are always interesting from a historic perspective, they are strangely lacking in character development.

The main characters are either irredeemably flawed or underdeveloped. While I found myself vested in knowing what happened next, if you need someone to root for, this book may not be for you. Some people have been bothered by the "magic realism" in the latter half of the book, but to me it seemed true to life that the characters would believe that one of the slaves would be a seer.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Novel of a Flawed Heroine May 19, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The most cliché ridden reviews always contain the phrase `sweeping epic'... so imagine how embarrassed I am to begin this review by stating that this is very much a sweeping epic. My apologies.

I feel as if I just spent several days in the sweltering heat and dangerous surroundings of a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico in the middle of the nineteenth century. The writing is lush and evocative and yet words are used sparingly, no pages of chatter describing every leaf and sunset. Very admirable in a novel of this depth. Even more admirable is the unflinching view of how that sugar was harvested and the human toll such an endeavor was thought of as necessary. These people aren't cardboard cutouts that always do the right thing or even the smart thing. It gives an insight into what these plantation owners told themselves to continue demeaning and abusing their slaves, the rationalizations of how they were actually helping them, not hurting them. Though of course there are the characters that simply don't care. And yet, they knew the day would come when everything would change and feared it. Rightly so in fact. People with nothing to lose can be dangerous indeed.

It's not an easy book to read full of suffering and tragedy but I was mesmerized and glad to see a peek into an unfamiliar culture. Much of the historical fiction I've read happens in Europe or America. It was great to see a novel use a different culture. I did stumble a bit over the occasional passages written in what I assume is Spanish but not enough to throw me out of the story and usually the words or sentences are explained in English without resorting to dry interpretations.

The story is far from over and I'm looking forward to more and hope it comes soon.
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69 of 90 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's Like the Book BEAT Me! July 19, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I've read many bad books long past the point where I knew I wouldn't get any real enjoyment from them because, as both a reader and a reviewer, I feel a desire for closure and completion in anything I read. So believe me when I say that I tried my hardest to get through this book, but I wound up skimming through/skipping over large sections altogether. (That by the way is the reason it's a two-star review instead of one-star: I have to admit the possibility, however remote, that I missed something really good. I find that hard to imagine.) It's like the book was actually resisting my attempts to read it! And, in a battle of wills, it won.

It's just such turgid prose. The author very obviously intended this to be some sort of grandiose historical romantic epic, and the promotional material--including, on the back of the advance reader edition, an actual letter from the publishing house's vice president about how awesome the book is, something I've never seen before and found so distasteful I was afraid to read the book at all and found I couldn't help but look for chances to disprove its declarations of how the story would affect me emotionally--have been very quick to rank this book among the masterpieces of historical fiction. Such a status is earned by excellent writing and awarded by critical and commercial acclaim, not attained through self-serving author/publisher fiat.

And the book does not earn the praises it heaps upon itself, certainly. The protagonist is annoying, not so much for anything she does--she's really little more than the stereotype of a spunky, unconventional woman who's got more moxy than her male relatives and must battle to make her own way in a man's world--but for the way the story sets her up as some star-crossed heroine.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Moving and interesting story. Read it
Interest in other cultures has always directed me to read books about them. This is me first book about Puerto Rico. I found the courage of Ana uplifting. Read more
Published 9 days ago by DIANE ASHLEY
5.0 out of 5 stars easy to read
easy to read, enlightening and of historical significance. A lot of very sad commentary for what went on in those days there and elsewhere. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Caroline McConnell
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Couldn't put it down.
Published 1 month ago by Barbara J
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
The end was rather rushed and did not resolve all issues
Published 1 month ago by KT
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story
Story about slavery gives us back an awareness that slavery doesn't belong to early US history only. Beautifully written and told.
Published 3 months ago by Maihwa Rahier
3.0 out of 5 stars So close to being great, but ultimately more frustrating than...
So much of this book is really quite great. The setup is pretty brilliant and you feel transported to old Spain and Puerto Rico. Read more
Published 3 months ago by D. Miller
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Couldn't wait to get back to reading it.
Published 4 months ago by Dianne Wolf
5.0 out of 5 stars History and great story!
Gave this to my friend for her birthday. She loves history and loves the book!
Published 4 months ago by Mark Twain
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down!
Love Santiago's book about Latin American culture and history. Don't know if the woman in the book was a true historical figure, but loved her confidence and independence. Read more
Published 4 months ago by DS Franco
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great price... Excellent service... Prompt delivery... A perfect deal for me!
Published 5 months ago by Carol
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