“The spirit of story and the spirit of peace are naturally bound together. Storytellers are one of the standard bearers for the creation of peace. I am convinced that story, as an expression of life, constitutes one of the highest forms of value creation.”

I took those words from jazz legend Wayne Shorter’s autobiography, Footprints. I read that book earlier in the year and changed the words in that paragraph. Shorter wrote art where I placed story and storyteller. I felt the changing of words was necessary for this review of Serafina’s Stories by Rudolfo Anaya.

Anaya told the story of Serafina, a young Pueblo Indian woman taken as a prisoner by the Governor of New Mexico in the late 17th century. They accused Serafina along with eleven other Pueblo Indians of starting a revolution against the colonial New Mexican government. She and the other prisoners were brought before the governor, who will decide their fate.

The governor takes a liking to Serafina because she can speak perfect Spanish and tell stories from her Pueblo Indian heritage.  Serafina agrees to tell a story to the governor each night, and if he enjoys the story, then he will free a prisoner one at a time. The governor accepts her deal because she reminds him of his deceased wife and treats her like a daughter.  The stories are told in Arabian Nights style and entertain the governor while providing insight into Serafina’s plight.

The friars of the village accuse Serafina of being a witch and enchanting the governor with her stories. Those accusations culminate in her trial, where she has to defend herself. Anaya shows the power of storytelling and how it can create empathy between the oppressor and the oppressed. Moreover, the power of story can create a bridge between cultures and find common ground where it seems unlikely.

Anaya drew upon the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 as inspiration for this book.  He admitted in the epilogue that he took liberties with some stories Serafina told in order to make it work as fiction.  However, I did not find that as an issue and his storytelling skills made Serafina’s Stories one of my favorite reads of the year.  This was my third Anaya book I have read, starting with the modern classic Bless Me Ultima and the excellent Alburquerque (the original spelling of the city), and now this book.  He has moved onto my favorite authors list and the fact I lived in New Mexico for a decade beginning in the mid 1990s. These stories told by Serafina were familiar to me.

If you are looking for a read to get lost in and that has a multicultural perspective in a positive manner, then Serafina’s Stories are worth reading. Thanks to Rudolfo Anaya for telling these much-needed stories and adding to the contemporary American fiction landscape.  Bravo!!!




Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Marion Hill