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Under the Feet of Jesus Paperback – April 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This first novel adds another important chapter to the existing body of literature about the Mexican-American experience. Viramontes (The Moths and Other Stories), who teaches at Cornell, does not offer deep characterization or psychological complexity here. Instead, working firmly in the social-realist vein of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, she paints a harrowing ensemble portrait of migrant laborers in California's fruit fields. The family of 13-year-old Estrella, and the others with whom they travel and work, burn under 109-degree heat until the backs of their necks sting; women nurse their babies in the backs of pickups. Viramontes depicts this world with a sensuous physicality, as when Petra, Estrella's mother, digs a fingernail into the melting tar of a blacktop highway. And the close quarters in which her characters are forced to live promotes a collective intimacy that Viramontes evokes with a sure hand, conveying the solace to be found in solidarity while never losing sight of the fact that these people enjoy absolutely no privacy. Slow and wandering at the outset, the novel picks up after a small plane releases a white shower of deadly pesticide, which washes over the face of Alejo, a teenager who is perched in a peach tree, busy stealing the soft, ripe fruit. Alejo is drenched with poison, much to the horror of Estrella, who has fallen in love with him. Alejo becomes sick with what the migrants call "da?o of the fields"?so sick that the de facto leader of the workers wants to leave him behind. But Estrella makes it her mission to help save him, and she is driven to great sacrifice in order to do so. Into this unforgiving world, Viramontes pours archetypal themes of the passage of time, young love, the bonds and tensions between generations and, above all, the straining of the spirit to transcend miserable material conditions.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Migrant Mexicans shackled to a life of itinerant farm labor form the backdrop for a summer in the life of young Estrella and her family. Seemingly a prescription for sorrow, in Viramontes' hands the canvas instead teems with color and builds toward hope for a liberating future--at least for Estrella. Her mother, Petra, and stepfather, Perfecto, remain confined to their tattered possessions and dusty poverty, and much of Viramontes' imagery--imaginative and allusive descriptions of land, orchards, and worn-out clothes--fix in readers' minds that they will not escape. Estrella, too, partakes of this despair of the migrant's world, but being young she is not resign to her seeming fate. Her feelings culminate when she smashes up a nurse's office, goaded by the nurse's insensitivity to the family's privation and shortage of cash. That shock quickly abates, but the anger elides into an ethereal mood as Perfecto weighs abandoning the family while Estrella wanders through a barn to scatter then reattract a flock of symbolic birds. A chromatically impressionistic novella that should hit home in Latin literature collections. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (April 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452273870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452273870
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By e k on April 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
The scorching hot midday sun beats down upon the bare necks of migrant Mexican workers, ready to do back-breaking work for meager wages. One of the characters of the story, Perfecto, observes the scene described in wonderful detail: clouds ready to burst like cotton plants, an old decaying barn nearby, and a silence interrupted only by the wisps of wind that ruffle the peach trees. As he observes these images, reality quickly sinks in: "The silence and the barn and the clouds meant many things. It was always a question of work, and work depended on the harvest, the car running, their health, the conditions of the road, how long the money held out, and the weather, which meant they could depend on nothing" (4). Set in the harsh, poverty-stricken world of the migrant Mexican worker, Under the Feet of Jesus, by Helena Maria Viramontes, is a story about a Latino family in California, trying to get by in a society that turns a cold shoulder to their every woe. As the characters endure hardship upon hardship throughout the book, the author's own ideology manifests itself in their slow loss of faith. Religion is no substitute for gritty human spirit in times such as these. By the end of the novel it seems clear that Perfecto's observation holds partly true: they can depend on nothing but themselves.
The novel centers primarily around Estrella, a young girl on the verge of womanhood, and her relationship with Alejo, another migrant worker of the same age. Throughout the story, the characters are confronted time and time again with hardships they must endure, each time further questioning their faith. After Alejo is poisoned by a crop duster and falls ill, the family takes care of him, spending what little money they have for his treatment.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
Agonizingly touching and as painfully fragile as life on the migrant-farming circuit can be, "Under the Feet of Jesus" is a novela that is as much a part of America as Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."
The wording of this book is so delicate that it could almost be mistaken for an extended poem if it were not for the strength of characters like Estrella and her mother Petra and the dialogue that goes spoken and unspoken between them.

From Petra and the harsh agricultural world around her, Estrella learns the difference between love without security and security without love; when Estrella makes her final choice, it is with the wealth of experiences of her own family.

Viramontes' book echoes not only great American writers of the past like Steinbeck, but classic Latin American literature like the "Popul Vuh" of the Mayas. The odd mixture of both cultures is smoothed over by the heavy sybolism of the cycles of the earth, and the humanity of the people who inhabit it.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Maria E. Rivera on May 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
I read this book in my eleventh grade. My English teacher knew that I liked to read, especially from Latino writers so he suggested I read Under the Feet of Jesus. What a great book that is. It's written by Helena Maria Viramontes. She is so detailed in her writing. She vividly decribes sensations and experiences. This story is about a young Mexican girl named Estrella who lives her life traveling with her mom, step dad, and four other siblings. They follow the agrucultural crops. Like in many other families, if you were old enough to carry a sack of cotton you were old enough to work. Estrella and her family moved from place to place working in strawberry fields, cotton fields, etc. Viramontes describes how even though her and her siblings were American born citizens, they still got nervous of seeing the immigration officers who are always looking for those persons without papers. They don't want immigrants living here illegally. It's true what Viramontes emphasizes, they have prejudice feelings toward immigrants who do nothing but work hard to make a better living for themselves. Immigrants are the ones who pick the vegetables they eat at dinner. They despise them. That's not fair because Mexican immigrants, as well as other immigrants, are the ones who make this nation grow. Viramontes describes Estrella's feelings toward her family, her life,this nation's hardships and the experience of her first love. I learned through this novel that this is what my father went through when he first came to this country. He still tells me what it was like to come as a stranger to this country carrying nothing but the clothes on his back and a couple of dollars in his pocket. Although he is now an American made citizen, he never forgets where he came from and what he had to go through to get where he is now.Read more ›
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Chris on March 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a short novel, 176 pages. The stories characters, a Chicano migrant family, are very finely crafted. They are very real. Perfecto is probably the most powerfully drawn. He is probably about 73, with a wife about 40 years younger than himself and several stepchildren including thirteen year old Estrella who could be said to be the novel's main character.
Estrella's father abandoned Petra, the mother and her children. Perfecto feels the urge to do just that towards the end of the book during a particularly difficult period. I'd have to say that the description of Perfecto's turmoil is probably a close second in the book to the scene where Estrella explodes in the medical clinic, where her class resentments are taken out on the poor white nurse.
Now, I got the feeling through reading this book that it might have been better edited. The author just might be the greatest confector of similes in the history of humanity though I thought she might have laid them on in the book a bit too heavy. There are streches in the book where the writing is first rate, full of vigor; then other periods when it is less vigorous but still well done. But after I finished the book, I thought to myself that the book could not have been written any other way for better or for worse.
In conclusion, this is a very finely crafted story of a poor migrant family, perhaps very typical, as they engage in back breacking labor for long hours at ten cents an hour under terrible working and living conditions, breathing in pesticides, enriching their bosses and giving us cheap fruit and vegetables.
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