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Zee Edgell: The Festival of San Joaquin

Zee Edgell tells the very touching story of a woman who is a victim of both male violence and the rich and powerful protecting their own. Luz Marina, at the beginning of the novel, has just been released from prison, after fifteen months, for killing her husband, Salvador Joaquín. Though we know that she killed him and that he treated her badly, we do not learn exactly why she killed him till almost the end of the novel. The story is about the trials and tribulations of Luz Marina after her release from prison but with a lot of flashbacks, telling what led up to her killing Salvador.

Luz Marina’s family was not well off. She had two sisters and they lived with their parents. Her father was a farmer but also drank a lot. On one occasion, at the festival, he got into a bad fight with a neighbour (whose son had already given Luz Marina some jewellery) and was badly hurt. After that, he was never able to work properly again. Luz Marina was able to sell food in the market till one day she saw Doña Catalina attacked by dogs. She gets help and Doña Catalina is rescued. In gratitude, she hires Luz Marina as her personal maid and Luz Marina goes to live in her house, with Doña Catalina’s husband, Don Pablo Casals and Doña Catalina’s son from her first marriage, Salvador, and her two sons from her marriage with Don Pablo, Andrés and Luis and the other staff. Luz Marina is close to Doña Catalina but the two older boys chase her and she finds herself in an awkward situation. When Salvador finally proposes to her, his mother and stepfather are not happy about it. However, they go off to live together though, despite various promises, do not marry. They do have three children but Salvador is often abusive and often disappears for a long period. He also fights with his step-father, as he wants to make some of their property a park but Don Pablo refuses. Eventually, Don Pablo abandons his wife and family, returning to his country of origin, though it is not sure what the country is.

Salvador’s behaviour gets steadily worse, as he abuses Luz Marina more and more and finally, defending herself against an attack, she kills him. Much of the novel tells of her story after she is released from prison. Her parents are in a bad way and her father eventually dies. It is difficult for her to find work and, when she does, efforts are made to prevent her from continuing. Behind the whole story is the scheme by the Casals family to develop the local land at great profit to themselves and the efforts of the various local people to prevent this development, with Luz Marina eventually joining in these efforts. Luz Marina surmounts every problem, perhaps a bit too stoically, including firing from jobs, having her market stall burned down and being beaten up. At times she comes across as too saintly, too good to be true, but as a story of the downtrodden against powerful forces and of a woman facing male prejudice and brutality, it is very well told.

Publishing history

First published by Heinemann in 1997