Students often ask me if the story they are reading is real. The humorous part of this is, it doesn’t matter how unrealistic the book is, they will still ask. To them, the lines are so blurred between fact and fiction that it is difficult for them to distinguish between the two. In my second summer reading book, Queen of Water, those lines are blurred so well that even I am curious as to what was real and what was fiction. This novel is based on a true story of an Ecuadorian indegena young woman, the co-author Maria Virginia Farinango, who was handed over to a mestizo family as an indentured servant at the age of seven.
I selected this book originally because the other author, Laura Resau, is one of my favorites. I discovered her Notebook Series last summer and I couldn’t rest until I read all three. Her books tend to weave exotic settings, memorable mystical characters, with coming of age stories. This book, Queen of Water, however spent a lot of time on my nightstand before I picked it up to read. “A novel based on a true story?” How does that work?
Virginia is Quichuan, an indigenous group of Ecuador who comprise the lowest class of Ecuadorian society descended from the Incas. They speak Quichuan, they are often uneducated and live in a cycle of poverty. Mestizos speak Spanish, they are fair skinned, they are well educated and therefore middle to upper class. As Virginia describes her poor and abused childhood and how she wished she was mestizo, I was reminded of the Native American and African American literature I read in college about characters who wished they were white, who wished there were dolls that looked like them, who wished for a better life.
There are many internal as well as external conflicts for Virginia, but perhaps the most universal was her struggle to find her place in society. Upon her return to her real family after practically being raised by the mestizos she was serving, Virginia discovers she can barely speak Quichuan. She feels like a stranger in her own family yet she cannot help but long for an education and a better life. As she enters the colegio to complete her schooling, she begins to feel like she is living a double life. She acts, dresses, and speaks like a mestizo, but at the end of the day she returns to her indigena family. Caught between the two worlds and not really feeling she belongs completely in either one, Virginia’s struggle is a familiar one.
Virginia’s strength and vivesima leads her to break the cycle of abuse and poverty and make choices for a better life. Her story serves as an inspiration for anyone in search of who they are and what they can become. And that, my friends, is what is real.
Lisa is the Reading Specialist at a middle school in Tinley Park, Illinois. She has been teaching for eighteen years and earned both a Masters in Reading Specialist and a Masters in Educational Leadership. Books, music, movies, and education are her life!