Las Madres: A novel (Hardcover)

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From the award-winning, best-selling author of When I Was Puerto Rican, a powerful novel of family, race, faith, sex, and disaster that moves between Puerto Rico and the Bronx, revealing the lives and loves of five women and the secret that binds them together

They refer to themselves as “las Madres,” a close-knit group of women who, with their daughters, have created a family based on friendship and blood ties.Their story begins in Puerto Rico in 1975 when fifteen-year-old Luz, the tallest girl in her dance academy and the only Black one in a sea of petite, light-skinned, delicate swans, is seriously injured in a car accident. Tragically, her brilliant, multilingual scientist parents are both killed in the crash. Now orphaned, Luz navigates the pressures of adolescence and copes with the aftershock of a brain injury, when two new friends enter her life, Ada and Shirley. Luz’s days are consumed with aches and pains, and her memory of the accident is wiped clean, but she suffers spells that send her mind to times and places she can’t share with others.

In 2017, in the Bronx, Luz’s adult daughter, Marysol, wishes she better understood her. But how can she when her mother barely remembers her own life? To help, Ada and Shirley’s daughter, Graciela, suggests a vacation in Puerto Rico for the extended group, as an opportunity for Luz to unearth long-buried memories and for Marysol to learn more about her mother’s early life. But despite all their careful planning, two hurricanes, back-to-back, disrupt their homecoming, and a secret is revealed that blows their lives wide open. In a voice that sings with warmth, humor, friendship, and pride, celebrated author Esmeralda Santiago unspools a story of women’s sexuality, shame, disability, and love within a community rocked by disaster.

About the Author


ESMERALDA SANTIAGO is the author of the novel Conquistadora and the memoirs When I was Puerto Rican and Almost A Woman, which was adapted into a Peabody Award–winning movie for PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she lives with her husband, documentary filmmaker Frank Cantor, in New York, and Port Clyde, Maine.

Praise For…


"A powerful and heartbreakingly accurate portrait of those unimaginable hours and seemingly interminable days after [Hurricane Maria]....For those who lived through Maria, or remember their relatives’ desperate accounts, Santiago is faithful to the details, both big and small....Her book captures what it means to be a Puerto Rican amid the cycles of loss and upheaval. It also becomes a timely and important chronicle of this chapter in the U.S. territory's history....With Las Madres, Santiago creates an indelible record of her homeland—and its resilience—during one of its toughest chapters." 
—Sandra Lilley, NBC News

"A close-knit group of female friends finds their bonds tested and their lives upheaved by the passage of time before coming together again in Puerto Rico in this elegantly woven novel from the author of When I Was Puerto Rican."
—Emma Specter, Vogue

"[A] dynamic and riveting novel....Santiago creates a tapestry of family, gender, race, sexuality and disability….Santiago unapologetically centers the female voice....[and] takes the reader on a visceral and gripping journey rendered in incredible detail....[A] stunning homage to Puerto Rican pride and resilience." 
—Veronica Corpuz, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"A sweeping and supple story centering three Puerto Rican women and their daughters living in the Bronx. As one of their daughters becomes curious about her background, her mother's childhood car accidentwhich took the lives of both of her mother's parentscomes sharply into view. Yet her mother can't remember the tragic event. To uncover the mystery, the women plan a vacation to Puerto Rico, a place wracked by hurricanes and secrets long buried." 
Ms. Magazine

“Santiago offers a vibrant portrayal of women supporting one another through disability and hardship.”
—Becky Meloan, The Washington Post

"In her most recent novel, Las Madres, Santiago explores a fresh perspective by highlighting the life stories of five Puerto Rican women residing in the U.S....Santiago’s intimate familiarity with these types of stories, through her own friends and siblings, adds a depth and authenticity to their narratives." 
—Francisco Gutierrez, Latina

"Gorgeous....[Las Madres] is sprawling in scope but tightly woven as a story, and every character is richly detailed....A tapestry of love and family that is a joy to read....Santiago is a deeply gifted storyteller, capturing the depth of her characters and extending care to all of them as she grapples with themes like memory, grief, and identity." 
—Sarah Neilson, Shondaland.com

"Esmeralda Santiago’s Las Madres is an inspiring story of women and their friendships that reminds us of our own."
—Sandra Cisneros, author of Woman Without Shame

"Esmeralda Santiago is already a legend. With Las Madres, a rich and deeply felt novel about friendship, family secrets, belonging, and the boundless love that survives devastation, she confirms her status as an absolute icon."
—Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans

"I savored this tender novel that celebrates the power of resilienceof Luz, of las madras, las nenas and the people of Puerto Rico. Santiago’s Las Madres is full of secrets and sacrifice and moments of tension and laughter that can only come in the company of women with long histories together.  With many rich layers, this full hearted novel beautifully explores the power of human compassion and what it means to truly care for another."
Xochitl Gonzalez, author of Olga Dies Dreaming

"An emotionally vast and resonant new novel by the brilliant Esmeralda Santiago. Oscillating between two pivotal years decades apart, Las Madres is a deep-dive into the history of modern Puerto Rico and a number of its extraordinary women—their secrets, their tragedies, and the reclamations they share. A magnificent read."
Cristina García, author of Vanishing Maps

"A richly told and indelible story....Santiago’s…gorgeous prose is the backbone of Las Madres — it's as expansive as it is concerned for the smallest details, an exercise in [her] masterful storytelling....Las Madres has cemented its place as a timeless story that will leave readers with a greater understanding and appreciation of what it means to navigate life as a Puerto Rican." 
—Amaris Castillo, PopSugar

“An immersive intergenerational saga… Santiago wrings palpable emotion from her characters, and hauntingly portrays Hurricane María’s devastating effect on the island… This tenderhearted story of trauma and recovery has undeniable appeal.”
Publishers Weekly

"In 2017, Luz returns home to Puerto Rico with family and friends—the “madres” of the title—hoping to recover memories lost in a 1975 accident that took the lives of her accomplished scientist parents. The first novel in a decade from an author whose memoir When I Was Puerto Rican was a major best-seller."
Library Journal
Product Details
ISBN: 9780307962614
ISBN-10: 030796261X
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: August 1st, 2023
Pages: 336
Language: English