An Indian girl born under Padre Serra’s cross at Mission San Miguel de Arcangel witnesses the political intrigue and greed of Spanish, Mexican and Yanqui invaders who plunder California, destroying everything she loves. A refugee in her own land during the Time of the Troubles, Maria Ines struggles to survive while she reclaims her family, her faith and her ancestral identity. A moving must-read for fans of the Old West and Native American history.
I love reading historical fiction as you get a story grounded in historical facts that shines a light on cultures and events that you may not have known about. Maria Ines is one such book. Told first from the perspective of a Salinan Indian, Alfonsa, and then her daughter, Maria Ines, it gives you a front row seat to the turbulence that embroiled California in the nineteenth century while shining a light on the harsh treatment of the Native Americans by all sides.
My knowledge of the geographical changes of the southwestern United States was limited until I read this book. I knew that it had initially been under control of Spain before Mexico won its independence, only to have it taken by the U.S. I knew of the Spanish Missions as well as the California gold rush, but was unaware of how these were historically linked and how they impacted the Indians.
For example, the Missions were meant to bring Christianity to the Indians, but they did so by force. Often, the Indians who lived within their walls were captured and if they attempted to run were hunted down and brought back. Many Native Americans died there from starvation and diseases such as syphilis. They were promised that someday they would be given land for farming, but when Mexico–who despised Spain and anything related to it–gained its independence they secularized the Missions, first starving and then driving away the natives who–in the end–got nothing.
I loved reading about Alfonsa and then Maria’s plight, the latter of whom suffered greatly. Not only did she lose everything she holds dear, but suffers such a monumental betrayal from her closest friend that I nearly exploded when I realized what Esperanza had done. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the book, but I will say this–Maria handled her friend’s betrayal better than I would’ve under the circumstances. This, plus a heart breaking plot where things only ever seemed to get worse for Maria and her people, made this one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read and incredibly difficult to put down.
The only criticism that I have is the POV. The book is told from three perspectives; Alfonsa, Maria Ines, and Padre Cabot. Unlike Alfonsa’s POV which sets up the plot for Maria, Padre Cabot’s POV seems weak and unnecessary. While it gives you an outsiders perspective to events, it’s only used for a few pages and the POV shifts weren’t always very clear. The first time the POV switched to Padre Cabot I was half way down the page before I realized what had happened.
Despite this, I’d recommend this book to anyone. It doesn’t have action or a deep romance, but it is an excellently researched book that takes you back to the Wild West and a large chunk of history that–while relatively unknown by most–is still impacting us to this day.
Disclaimer: The imagery used in this blog post is not mine and I have no claim to it.