Tarnished Beauty

A Novel

Tarnished Beauty

Now available in paperback from the critically acclaimed author whose writing is “soulful and unsentimental” (Kirkus Reviews)— a profound story that reflects on the true meaning of beauty.

From the moment she was born, Jamilet’s gruesome birthmark frightened the superstitious villagers in her rural Mexican town, making them believe she was marked by the devil: “It was said by some to resemble a freshly gutted cow, by others to writhe like many snakes in a pit of blood. The few who had actually seen it said it was beyond description and that they were unable to sleep for days after seeing it.” When she enters young womanhood, she can no longer bear her lonely, scorned life as an outcast. She flees her oppressive village and illegally crosses the border to Los Angeles in hopes of finding a medical cure for her physical affliction. Eventually, Jamilet finds work at a mental hospital where she attends to the eccentric and disagreeable elderly Señor Peregrino. He begins to share with her the glorious stories from his youth when he embarked on a religious pilgrimage along the legendary and mystical Road to Santiago. An unlikely spiritual connection forges between them—healing their minds, bodies, and hearts in ways that medicine could not. Tarnished Beauty is a compelling story of redemption, faith, and the enduring power of friendship that examines the wounds of the soul.
  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 368 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416549512 | 
  • June 2009
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Reading Group Guide

Jamilet is a beautiful young woman marred by a shockingly gruesome birthmark. It spills ominously over her back and down her legs, causing the villagers in her rural Mexican town to ostracize her. This angel with the devil's mark escapes north to Los Angeles, crossing the border illegally with the hope of finding a miracle.
After acquiring false documents, Jamilet finds work in a mental hospital. Her job is to care for a single patient, an elderly man from Spain, who is as disagreeable as he is mysterious. Jamilet is given strict orders to keep her distance, but when Señor Peregrino cleverly snags possession of her papers, he bargains with her; if she listens to his story, he will return her documents. Jamilet begrudgingly agrees and listens as he weaves a mystical and romantic tale of his journey along the legendary Camino de Santiago in Spain. By the time her companion finishes his story, Jamilet has found her miracle. And to her disbelief, it's not the one she'd been hoping for.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. What significance does the birthmark have for Jamilet? Discuss how she manages the reactions of others when they see her birthmark. Most importantly, how does its hold on her change as the story progresses?
2. In Mexico, how do the other villagers treat Jamilet? What explanations does the author give for their behavior?
3. In Mexico, Jamilet looked up to Tia Carmen for her constant laughter and posi see more

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About the Author

Cecilia Samartin
Photo © Aaron Gil

Cecilia Samartin

Cecilia Samartin was born in Havana in the midst of Fidel Castro's revolution. She grew up in Los Angeles as a fully bicultural, bilingual American. She studied psychology at UCLA and marriage and family therapy at Santa Clara University. Deeply concerned with the lack of Spanish speakers in her profession, Cecilia has practiced within the Latino communities in some of the most impoverished inner-city areas of San Jose and Los Angeles. She lives with her British-born husband in San Gabriel, California.