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Calligraphy of the Witch Paperback – September 30, 2012
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"De Alba has a firm grasp of her historical material and portrays the pirate life as convincingly as the witch trials." --Publishers Weekly
De Alba's Puritans are as rich and complex as any characters in recent historical fiction. --Kirkus Reviews
From the Inside Flap
Born of a Spaniard and a mixed-race woman, young Concepcion Benavidez was apprenticed as a scribe to a convent. At nineteen, she escapes and is captured in the siege of Vera Cruz in 1683. She unexpectedly becomes the property of the Dutch pirate Laurens-Cornille de Graffe, who rapes her repeatedly on the long journey to the Massachusetts Bay Colony where he will sell his cargo. Realizing the young mestiza has fine penmanship, the pirate promptly sells her when they reach the cold New England coast.
Concepcion is thrust into a world where she doesn't understand the language or the customs. Bought by a prominent Puritan, Merchant Greenwood, to tend to his old father-in-law and his chicken farm, the girl from New Spain is regarded with suspicion. She is considered a papist half-breed who speaks the language of the devil and practices an ungodly religion. Greenwood immediately forbids her to speak her native tongue, and he changes her name to Thankful Seagraves.
The merchant's barren wife discovers that the girl is pregnant with the pirate's child. And she covets the baby. In the following years, the two women spar for her love and affection. But when several women in Salem Village, including Concepcion's friend Tituba Indian, are imprisoned for witchcraft, it's not long before people and even her own daughter start whispering about Concepcion. After all, doesn't she keep a cat for a familiar and burn letters for the dead in the woods? Doesn't she appear lasciviously in men's dreams? How else could she have coerced the old man to marry and free her?
This riveting historical novel combines the horror of the Salem witch trials with the philosophy and poetry of the nun and writer known as the first feminist of the Americas, Sor Juana In s de la Cruz. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, this novel takes a mesmerizing look at women in the New World in the 17th century and the men who accuse them for no reason.
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This is a historical novel which happens in the late 1600's during the famous Salem Witch trials. Concepcion is a bastard child born to a Mexican government official and an Indian mother. Abandoned by her mother in Mexico after she had been indentured to a nun convent, Concepcion runs away with a friend only to be seized by Pirates and taken to New England. She arrives in New England pregnant after being repeatedly raped by the ships Captain.
The captain discovers her gift of calligraphy, renames her Thankful Seagraves, and sells her to a Boston merchant who plans to have her manage her father-in-laws farm while caring for the crippled man. Unable to speak English, deathly ill and terrified, Thankful gives birth to a daughter who her owner's wife covets.
For 8 years Thankful and her daughter are pulled between two worlds. Although she proves herself in her ability to care for the crippled man, learns to speak and write English and brings profits to the farm, she is considered unacceptable as a bi-racial servent who speaks a foreign language and is Catholic. Rebecca, her owners wife, slowly turns her daughter against her.
Throughout the novel, Concepcion keeps a journal that she hopes one day will be read by the daughter she loves so much. The journal gives you insight into what life was like in the 1600's.
When the hysteria of the Salem withcraft trials begin, Capcion's own daughter implicates her as a witch, sending her to the cold, filthy dungeons. The ending is bittersweet, creating a surge of emotions for readers.
Parts of the text are told as if written by Concepción in her scribe script (and are in a calligraphic font.) I loved this, but I did find my eyes straining to read at various points (maybe I need new glasses). Still, this touch makes the novel feel like a work of art.
Her Spanish language and foriegn ways put Concepción (renamed Thankful Seagraves) at odds with her New England owners and neighbors, eventually sweeping her up into the hysteria of the Salem witch trials. The story is well written and at times almost too tense. I could hardly put it down. Highly recommend.
I strongly recomend this book for anyone who wants to moved and touched by writing that is simultaneously beautiful and powerful. This is a novel that will present you with each page you turn will present you with gifts of insights as women, men, mothers, daughters, sisters.
I would like to thank the author of this novel, GRACIAS, thank you for writing such a prolific story that reached down into the depths of my spirit as a mother, daughter and "hermana". It reached down and smuged my spirit with copal and sage and healed something.