Author: Sheila Ortego
Publisher: Sunstone Press, Santa Fe
This beautifully written novel tells the story of one woman's journey of self-discovery. The novel not only contends with Ana Howland's increasing sense of being smothered by a domineering and controlling husband, but also shows her growing realization that she has always lived under the overbearing weight of an oppressive relationship. Neither her authoritarian mother nor her dictatorial husband can accept her as a separate and imperfect person.
The Road from La Cueva is full of metaphor and in the hands of Ortego, the use of this device brings a richness and poetry to a topic that might seem trite in other hands. We are given a deeper glimpse into Ana's struggles through the images of the hostile road from La Cueva, the stubborn clay shaped by the potter, and the Changing Woman Ceremony (sometimes called the Sunrise Ceremony).
The road to and from Ana's home is a very tangible representation of those oppressive relationships in her life. When this dirt road is dry, it is as hard and unyielding as rock ... ready to tear up and break what dares to pass over it. Wet, the road is even worse. It oozes over and sucks everything into it with "a satisfied, brown belch."
The beauty of the imperfect is gorgeously represented through the craft of pottery. As Ana learns this craft from Michael, a co-worker, she notices that one of his creations has an uneven rim.
He ran his fingers around the rim of the cup. "See how this isn't even? The Japanese call this shibui, the flaw that makes something beautiful. The shape has to have some room, some freedom." ... "Like with people," he said, and she nodded.
It is this very room and freedom that is lacking in Ana's life. She has allowed the oppressive behaviors of others to weigh down her very being and she knows that it is something only she can change.
One of the most beautiful chapters in the book is the one describing the Changing Woman Ceremony, a Native American ceremony celebrating the change from girlhood to womanhood. Ana already knows that the means to change her life is within reach. It becomes more apparent as she watches the ceremony and recognizes her own internal strength and power as a woman. No longer will she be passively shaped by others. Ana already has the ability to gain command over her weaknesses, to be physically and emotionally strong, and to endure and suffer with dignity. Before the readers' eyes, "[she is shaped] ... into the woman she [is] to become." Her deep compassion and resilience form a strong core around which to emerge.
The Road from La Cueva is an encouraging look at the power we all have to shape our own lives. The passion and beauty of the writing is something that will draw me back to this story repeatedly.
Rating: 5 of 5
For more about Sheila Ortego, visit the author's website.
Article by Sheila Ortego about The Road from La Cueva at The Huffington Post.
2008 New Mexico Book Awards Finalist
Finalist in the ForeWord Magazine 'Book of the Year' contest
Also reviewed at:
In Spring it is the Dawn
Terra's Book Blog