Ghosts of El Grullo
Yolanda Sahagun in 1973 is about to enter college at the University of San Diego, in California, but that’s not the most unusual change she’s about to experience in this coming of age novel celebrating the integration of her Mexican heritage and American life. Beginning with a party where she is about to be honored by a Daughters of the American Revolution scholarship award, she hears her usually quiet, unassuming mother narrate a vivid story of what the last Mexican Revolution of 1917 was really like. The American DAR members are riveted, but later on her mother tells Yolanda that she, Yolanda, is a true revolutionary figure. It takes the entire novel for Yolanda to discover just what that means, starting from the visits back to her family’s village, El Grullo, in Jalisco, Mexico, where ancestral ghosts still prowl the hallways, longing to bring closure to some unfinished family history.
Within that conflict are the endless tussles Yolanda has with her strict and frequently violent father, a man who can only be calmed by his wife, a man whom his wife finally forces to choose between silence and exile from the family. Then there’s the psychologically wounded brother rendered disabled from his Vietnam War experiences. The climax of the novel occurs around her parents, involving changes that so deeply shatter Yolanda’s equilibrium that the reader wonders how she will survive. However, the essence of this novel is not about surviving grief and devastation.
Patricia Santana writes in one of the most beautiful narrative voices this reviewer has encountered. The reader not only gets to know each of the characters intimately but wants more and more to literally share it as well. Read this book – for its passion, colorful setting and dialogue, and overall its sheer beauty and richness. What a phenomenal read!