Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa | Puerto Rico
I read the first chapter of A Woman Of Endurance, then I put the book down, because my heart was racing. I remember one of the first things that dawned on me was that Ms. Llanos-Figueroa is more than a writer: she’s a storyteller! If you were raised by grandparents who could weave a tale that gave you goosebumps, or made you laugh, or made you wonder, amplify that by 100!
A Woman Of Endurance is more than just a slave narrative. It’s about the lives of Black Puerto Rican slave women who rally around each other, grieve with each other, encourage each other, protect each other, and love each other in sisterhood. This was one of the most emotionally challenging books I’ve ever read. I can only equate it to Roots by Alex Haley. It’s an excellent study of slave society economics and politics, but also includes all of the nuances that binded and divided the social structure of the slaves themselves. This is a slave story of the Afro-Puerto Rican experience and includes slaves stolen from West Africa who remember their lives and try desperately to endure the brutality, and irony, of their new lives.
It begins with Pola in 1849 on a plantation called Hacienda Paraíso in Piñones, Puerto Rico, that she is trying to escape from. Her real name is Keera and she’s running away from one of the most brutal experiences a slave woman can endure: not only is she a field slave, she’s sexually abused for both breeder purposes and the macabre enjoyment of the overseers. Understandably, Pola struggles emotionally to deal with this, and she’s sold to another plantation where the women and one silently consistent man, will provide the steady loyalty she needs.
But what stands out the most are the women who become Pola’s foundation. Three of them—Tia Josefa, Rufina, and Pastora—teach, counsel, shield, and support her as she slowly begins her journey through her pain. It’s the type of protection I think all women crave to have from the women in their lives.
Ms. Llanos-Figueroa immerses you in this plantation that never really sleeps because sugar production, in some form, dominates slave life year-round. An interesting fact is the secondary income that’s exploited from ‘needlewomen’, slaves skilled in sewing anything from custom ball gowns to lacy undergarments, to table napkins. It’s amazing when you think about the talent that existed, but these people are never really able, in most cases, to capitalize on their talents for their own independent self-preservation. The dynamics of the economics are fascinating.
Additionally, there’s a character named Simón who is the most patient, intelligent, and loving romantic interest that he warms your heart. For years he silently, and without approaching her physically, lets her know of his interest. His character is so endearing and his quiet strength so hypnotic, that he is really a force that added to Pola’s foundation that increased her trust in others.
Ms. Llamos-Figueroa has written a novel that will haunt you. Admittedly, I cried tears after I read the last word. ‘Who writes like this?’ I asked myself. I just want her to adopt me so I can sit at her knees and listen to more of her stories.