The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood
by Sandra Ramos O'Briant

La Gente Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-615-61510-3.
Reviewed by Dawn Wink
Posted on 05/03/2013

Fiction: Multi-Cultural; Fiction: Historical

In The Sandoval Sisters' Secret of Old Blood, author Sandra Ramos O'Briant weaves a tale drenched in the history and culture of Spain and the Southwest. Diaries passed down through the lineage of Sandoval women string together a cluster of lives as bold as a chile ristra. The journals begin in Spain during the Inquisition and each generation adds another volume to the collection where "human dreams had been written in archaic Spanish and terrible sins described in faded brown ink on whisper-thin paper." Finally, we find Oratoria poring through the texts in 1841—"a dangerous time for Anglos in Santa Fe."

New Mexico stands on the fault line between worlds, on the edge of the Mexican American war, at once part of Mexico, with the United States moving ever closer. We experience the turbulence of this time with the Sandoval sisters: Oratoria, bought by the family after her capture by Apaches in Mexico; her sister Alma, who runs away from an arranged marriage into the heart of Texas; and Pilar, the youngest sister who escapes every night to ride her father's stallion through the northern desert until dawn. In turn, each sister seeks the diaries to find that "the recipes were there, but so were their fears and ecstasies, their seductions and adulterous affairs. The diaries were cookbooks of life." Wisdom gained through the generations, combined with the fortune of their family, brands the Sandoval sisters as witches by la gente, the people. Each shares her story in her own voice, and through these stories we experience love, heartbreak, erotic desire, witchcraft, and the human yearning to be free and take care of one's own.

Ramos O'Briant tells the complex story of history of the Southwest—complicated, a clash of cultures steeped in slavery, kidnapping, murder, blood, and also love, family, and the creation of fused cultures forever etched into the landscape.

Ancient journals, the thickness of old blood, sensuous love, and the life-altering choices we all must make, set against the rich backdrop of history, compose the heart of The Sandoval Sisters' and the Secret of Old Blood. Ultimately, this is a novel of self-determination, of the sisters, a people, and a land. This era, sometimes wondrous, often violent, creates families of both heritage and circumstances, borne of love and of loss, all deepening the kinship of blood and land. The Sandoval sisters create their role, each in her unique way reflected in future generations, and each with individual courage, for "witches do not ride broomsticks on moonlit nights. They prefer stallions."

Read an excerpt from this book.

Sandra Ramos O'Briant grew up in Santa Fe and spent summers in Texas. Her short stories and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Visit her website.

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