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The Queen of Water

Review

The Queen of Water

Even as a young girl growing up near the Andes of Ecuador, Virginia knows that her indígena (indigenous) family, living in a dirt hut, is different from the families of mestizos (mixed Spanish and native blood) who belong to another class of society. Her family and others like hers work for the mestizos, so she doesn't think much of it when she sees a mestizo couple at her home. But seven-year-old Virginia is in for a surprise because, by the end of the day, she has been promised to a mestizo family as a maid.

Virginia is told she will earn a large sum of money each month that will be sent back to her family, so she's happy to do her part. But it's soon clear that her job is nothing like that of her older sister. Virginia doesn't get to go home to visit every month, and soon years have passed. The only family she knows are the people she works for: Niño Carlitos, the father; Doctorita, the mother; and Jaimito, the baby. Virginia forgets her native Quichua and learns to speak Spanish fluently. Slowly but surely, she becomes more comfortable with mestizo Ecuadorian culture than the Quichua culture she was born into.

And yet she is not totally accepted by the family she works for. Sometimes the Doctorita is pleased with Virginia, and other days she beats her. Niño calls Virginia m'hija (my daughter), but he doesn't teach her to read or keep his wife from hitting her. Virginia lives a strange life that she'd like to escape, but it's the only life she knows.

As she grows up, Virginia regains the spark she had as a child, and she soon begins to take charge of her identity and her education. But things take a turn for the worse at home, and she must deal with both living in fear and fearing the unknown, should she choose to find her biological family.

Though the word "slavery" is never mentioned in the book, Virginia is a slave. "Kidnapped" is never said either, but that's what happens. In a sensitive, non-jarring way, THE QUEEN OF WATER deals with tough issues without being didactic, preachy, or overly inspirational. This fictionalized memoir is honest and earnest. What makes it so moving is that it's not a story about modern slavery; it's about a young girl grappling with bicultural identity in a country that only accepts one culture, about finding out who you are.

THE QUEEN OF WATER paints a beautiful, complete picture of Virginia's Ecuador. Her story will feel new, but her voice will feel familiar. This is a great read.

Reviewed by Sarah Hannah Gomez on March 8, 2011

The Queen of Water
by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango

  • Publication Date: March 13, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ember
  • ISBN-10: 0375859632
  • ISBN-13: 9780375859632