Our Lady of the Night
This novel is set in Puerto Rico during the first half of the 20th century. It opens with the protagonist, Isabel Luberza, presiding over her brothel, euphemistically named Elizabeth’s Dancing Club. Over the years, it has become the gathering place for influential politicians, businessmen, and other important figures of Puerto Rican society. “La Negra,” as she was known, was born into poverty. As a young girl, she worked as a household servant after being abandoned by her mother and raised by her caring godmother. While at the brothel, she masters the art of sewing and later becomes a successful seamstress with her own business. As Isabel matures, she has a number of liaisons. At one point, she gives birth to a son who she quickly abandons. One of her lovers, a wealthy attorney, gives her a small parcel of land near St. Anton, outside of the city of Ponce. Isabel builds a house that she transforms into the brothel that she will become famous for. Through her experiences, she becomes a shrewd and hardhearted businesswoman in her obsessive quest to become an influential and respected member of Puerto Rican society.
Santos-Febres has written an alluring story about a real yet elusive woman. She portrays Isabel as an individual, strong and ambitious and with a keen intellect, who is undaunted by the real world. The novel is masterfully written in a prose style that is descriptive and engaging. It is a fascinating insight into an aspect of U.S. history that is well worth exploring.