Daughters of the Stone
by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
Review by Julie Carpenter
I will start with a disclaimer and a warning. The disclaimer is this: I know the author, I met her at a writer’s conference in New York this summer. (She is every bit as warm and compelling as the book she gave me.) Now for the warning: I pulled out the book at the airport and immediately became so engrossed that I nearly missed my plane. Be careful when you start this book. You won’t want to put it down.
This story is the story not of one person, but of a family, a collection of narratives told and passed down by a family of Puerto Rican women, along with the magic stone of the title. This book begins in the mid to late 1800s with Fela, a woman stolen from her life in Africa and sold into slavery in Puerto Rico. She keeps with her a special stone, which she and her husband have imbued with the essence of a child not yet born. The stone allows the baby to be born, although Fela must make terrible choices to give life to her daughter.
From the horrors and injustice of Fela’s story comes a family of powerful women. Fela’s strength threads its way through the lives of her daughter Mati, a powerful healer, and the succession of women who follow: Concha, Mati’s daughter who feels trapped by her family’s history; Elena, who must work hard to forge a life for her family in the United States; and Carisa, who completes the circle by returning to Puerto Rico.
The characters are beautifully and tenderly written, each with her own sort of power, though flaws are not overlooked. In this family, not every daughter wants to follow the path her mother has laid out for her, but each generation is bound to the others by an intense love and the stories they have inherited.
The book is fascinating on many levels, the beautifully drawn characters, the lyrical prose, the hints of the supernatural influence on the lives of women. It is also noteworthy for its portrayal of a time and place that has been overlooked by American history books, Puerto Rico during the days of slavery on the sugar plantations. This author does not flinch and the reader is forced to confront slavery from the point of view of those who experienced it.
Llanos-Figueroa also does a remarkable job of delineating the bond between the women who don’t always agree with one another or accept the gift of the past graciously. The family bond gives strength whether it is deserved or always acknowledged. The past haunts the present, sometimes in miraculous ways. Your ancestors give you their stories and you must decide how to use them in your own.
This book is highly recommended. But give yourself the gift of time when you read it. You might not be able to put it down.
Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City. She taught in the New York City school system before becoming a young-adult librarian. Dahlma has won the Bronx Council on the Arts ACE and Brio awards, as well as a Literary Arts Fellowship. This is her first novel. She lives in the Bronx.