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The Mourning of Angels by Peru RPCV Patricia Edmisten
The Mourning of Angels by Peru RPCV Patricia Edmisten
Review of "A Mourning of Angels"
The Mourning of Angels
by Patricia Edmisten ISBN: 1-4010-2093-3 (Trade Paperback) ISBN: 1-4010-2092-5 (Hardback) ISBN: 1-4010-2094-1 (eBook) Pages: 309 Subject: FICTION / General Availability
Trade Paperback $19.54 Hardback $29.69 eBook $8.00
Description "I read Patricia Edmisten´s dramatic and sensuous debut novel, ´The Mourning of Angels´ in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Her marvelous evocation of the first days of the Peace Corps provided an escape from the sadness of New York City, where I live, as well as a much-needed perspective on the savagery of that act.
´The Mourning of Angels´ captures the innocence of 1962 and 1963, before the Kennedy assassination, when many of us, swept up in the idealism of such a venture, joined the Peace Corps and journeyed to countries we´d never heard of, and when young women seized the opportunity for a kind of adventure that until then had almost solely been the purview of men. Lydia Schaefer, Edmisten´s 23-year-old protagonist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a tough, principled, sometimes provocative, but always emotionally receptive young woman, determined to do her job as a health care worker, first in Arequipa, Peru and later in the coastal town of Ica.
In straightforward, beautifully descriptive prose, subtly impregnated with the political and cultural history of Peru, Edmisten charts Lydia Schaefer´s journey from innocence--she is a Catholic girl, still a virgin, the product of a protective, loving home--to a stark, tragic maturity. Lydia describes her view beyond her barriada in Arequpa. ´Gray and white dominate the landscape. No road is paved. There are no trees. Nothing green. No spring flowers interfere with the dreariness. Looking up, however, there is visual relief. Misti, a 19,150-foot volcano, said to be dormant by experts, but alive to those who know her tremors, rises proudly over The City of my Hope. Snow lavishly bleeds down her sides, like the white mantle of the Madonna.´
As this image of the Virgin´s cloak implies, Lydia struggles with her strong Catholic beliefs in the face of rampant infant mortality, the yearly pregnancies of poor women, and the Church´s refusal to allow birth control. Interestingly, she never gives up her Catholicism, but rather gradually adapts the religion to her new knowledge and beliefs, much as Indians force the Catholic church to incorporate native rituals into the liturgy. She breaks her own rule to remain a virgin until marriage. With a sensuality that is both innocent and literally rapturous, Edmisten writes of Lydia making love with her in-country co-worker, Rafael. He is mestizo with a Spanish father and Indian mother. They are journeying bak to his village beyond Machu Picchu, when they stop to swim in a mountain pool and then make love. ´Rafael´s kiss is moist and sweet, and as he eases on top of me, it becomes more familiar, more urgent. The air is fresh and fragrant, a light breeze glances off our warm bodies. I look up at blinding white clouds and reach my arms out to them. We remain immobile for a few minutes and then slowly rock. A condor soars overhead. I have read of eagles mating in mid-air, free falling, unaware of the doom below. It was like that. The doom she senses in her moment of sexual abandon fortells of political clashes and violence that will irrevocably change her life and radicalize her world view.
Edmisten is masterful in portraying the customs, politics, food, suffering, playful activities and collective nature of life for the Indians of that region. She elegantly weaves in strands of history and political theory. Though generous of spirit throughout, by the end of her painful story, Edmisten has shown how the Church, the United States in its fight against communism during that period, the cultural innocence of Americans, the abusive powers within the country are all at least morally complicit in the continuance of devastating poverty, the subjugation of women, and the oppression of Indians.
Reading ´The Mourning of Angels´ in a time of national mourning viscerally reminded me that other cultures and nations have suffered atrocities for centuries, that if we´re to be honest with ourselves, we as a nation and a people must admit to some responsibility in the global ratcheting up of violence. Edmisten also shows the wonderful gutsiness and tenacity of those early peace Corps volunteers who plunged gamely into uncharted waters. Some swam, some sank, but all learned of other worlds and experienced hardships they never would have had a glimmer of if they´d not served. This is what Edmisten and her appealing Lydia Schaefer remind us of. Edmisten has written and admirable book, and one that superbly fulfills the third goal of the Peace Corps, ´to bring the world home.´" Marnie Mueller, author of ´Green Fires,´ winner of the American Book Award, "The Climate of the Country," and, forthcoming, "My Mother´s Island."
"Lydia Schaefer leaves her comfortable, middle-class home in Wisconsin as an innocent yearning for adventure in an exotic Latin American milieu. The Peace Corps provides her that opportunity. She learns to survive not only the hostile forces of Peru´s physical and political environment, but also the heartbreak of an ill-fated first romance. More importantly, Lydia learns to question her own complacency about received notions of faith, patriotism, and the role of women. She encounters,--and is transformed by--customs and practices that throw her psychic world into disarray. "The Mourning of Angels" inspires and informs. It will appeal to the reader interested in international politics, feminism, social activism, or the powers of love." Mary Lowe-Evans, Professor of English and women´s Studies, The University of West Florida, author of "Crimes Against Fecundity" and "Mary Shelley´s Wedding Guest."
"An engaging story and an excellent sample of the Initiation Novel, ´The Mourning of Angels,´ gives us a dramatic, personally-voiced reconstruction of the events surrounding the historically important pioneering efforts of the Peace Corps. Seen through Lydia Schaefer´s eyes, the female journey from protected innocence to worldliness in the Peace Corps takes on a modestly mythic tone. Here, Patricia Taylor Edmisten has given us the boon of needed insight into the female passage from known to unknown during our country´s own passage along this trail in foreign policy."
Ron Evans, Professor Emeritus of English, The University of West Florida, author of "The Creative Myth and the Cosmic Hero."
"Patricia Edmisten´s lyrical prose richly weaves a colorful and textured fabric of the strands of passion, social justice, and the natural and political history of Peru--an enchanting book." Nancy Gilliam, J.D. For more about books by Peace Corps writers long on to http://peacecorpswriters.org