Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Representation: Afro-Puerto Rican, Yoruba religion
Content Warnings: Slavery, Rape, Colorism, Racism, Elitism, Classism, Police Violence (minor part of story).
A lyrical powerful novel about a family of Afro-Puerto Rican women spanning five generations, detailing their physical and spiritual journey from the Old World to the New.
It is the mid-1800s. Fela, taken from Africa, is working at her second sugar plantation in colonial Puerto Rico, where her mistress is only too happy to benefit from her impressive embroidery skills. But Fela has a secret. Before she and her husband were separated and sold into slavery, they performed a tribal ceremony in which they poured the essence of their unborn child into a very special stone. Fela keeps the stone with her, waiting for the chance to finish what she started. When the plantation owner approaches her, Fela sees a better opportunity for her child, and allows the man to act out his desire. Such is the beginning of a line of daughters connected by their intense love for one another, and the stories of a lost land.
Mati, a powerful healer and noted craftswoman, is grounded in a life that is disappearing in a quickly changing world.
Concha, unsure of her place, doesn’t realize the price she will pay for rejecting her past.
Elena, modern and educated, tries to navigate between two cultures, moving to New York, where she struggles to keep her family together.
Carisa turns to the past for wisdom and strength when her life in New York falls apart.
The stone becomes meaningful to each of the women, pulling them through times of crisis.
This was my first time reading a historical fiction novel that takes place in Puerto Rico, which is a shame because my maternal family is Puerto Rican and Dominican. I loved that this book was also from the perspectives of Afro-Puerto Ricans, too. It made me feel accepted. On top of that, the book included phrases and words in Spanish (PR dialects, of course) which felt like listening to my family members tell their stories in Spanglish.
Llanos-Figueroa's writing was descriptive without overdoing it. It's poetic, natural, and almost matter-of-fact. It's amazing how smoothly she guided the story from Fela to Carisa. I could understand each woman's pain, thoughts, and needs. While each of their experiences broke my heart a little bit, I know that those were needed in order for this story to fully relay the many truths of our experiences. There was struggle, but there was also triumph!
My favorite characters were Mati, Tía Josefa, and Carisa. Mati had this mysterious vibe about her. Her patience, strength, tenacity, and connection to her mother and spirituality were amazing. Tía Josefa was comforting, wise, and steady. Her presence made it easier to follow Fela and Mati's stories. Carisa held the strength of her ancestors, but faced the skepticism and condescension of white American "intellectuals." I felt her frustration and am glad that Llanos-Figueroa included this aspect of the story.
This book took me a while to get into because I could not find an audiobook copy anywhere which is odd because the book was originally published in 2009.
I highly recommend this book to teens and up. Whether you are also Afro-Latine(x) or not, it's a wonderful novel. It would be a great book for history, sociology, literature, and creative writing courses as it opens readers up to the discussions of whitewashing Puerto Rico, colonization, slavery in the Caribbean, racism, and undoing preconceived notions of what kind of stories are real and worth telling.