After reading Désirée Zamorano’s The Amado Women, many readers have claimed to have found a new story with women who are more properly, culturally portrayed, an interesting story which offers new commentary on the larger themes of love and loss, family and finding strength in numbers and learning from our past. As I begin to write this review, I find that I must agree with my fellow readers. This story emphasizes beauty and strength; and Zamorano’s portrayal of these women represents, both, innovation and new-thinking in the way of more accurately using cultural references as potential characteristics, rather than as wholly-defining attributes.
This is an emotionally-difficult novel in many ways, stemming from its strong emphasis on past events. Arguably, more time is spent reliving these events, and coming to terms with them, than in the actual present. Perhaps this will be a problematic trait for some, those who hold a greater desire in their reading to be constantly moving forward, but I found this imbalance to be somewhat endearing, if not a constant reminder of how our past decisions and involvements continue to inform us, and even plague and harm us, in our current affairs. This emphasis on the past also opens up this small world of characters in a way we may not otherwise observe; by exploring their past lives, which function like wounds that are constantly being reopened, we gain a greater understanding and appreciation for these women. Without this focus on the past, we would care for these characters in the same way.
Not to mention Zamorano’s achievement in developing unique, culturally-diverse characters, riding on a line between their heritage and cultural surroundings. Placed against the backdrop of American hustle-and-bustle, and with constantly-changing religious influences, these women operate somewhere between involvement with this background (their selected jobs, the raising of children, etc.) and embracing their culture (primarily through cuisine, prioritization of values and defining success, and family ties). While many novels emphasize cultural stereotypes in their Hispanic characters, this novel minimizes the importance of those stereotypes and focuses more so on the importance of their diaspora. This shift, too, allows us to care more so for these characters, because they are more realistic, wholesome and complete.
This may be Zamorano’s first trade-published novel, but I highly doubt it will be her last. With its lovely focus on family and working through the past to gain a new present, the novel represents both hardships and beauty, harm and hope, and it is through its emotionally-trying edges that we arrive at an ending that is pleasing and long-awaited and well-earned.
DÉSIRÉE ZAMORANO is a playwright, Pushcart Prize nominee, and novelist. She is the director of the Community Literacy Center at Occidental College; she also collaborates with InsideOut Writers, a program that works with formerly incarcerated youth. She lives in Pasadena, California. The Amado Women is her first trade-published novel.