Finalist for the Los Angeles Times book award and winner of the Minnesota Book Award, A Place Where the Sea Remembers is a timeless classic, a mesmerizing world filled with love, betrayal, tragedy, and hope.
This rich and bewitching story is a bittersweet portrait of the people in Santiago, a Mexican village by the sea. Chayo, the flower seller, and her husband Candelario, the salad maker, are finally blessed with the child they thought they would never have. Their cause for happiness, however, triggers a chain of events that impact the lives of everyone in their world.
The hopes, triumphs, failures, and shortcomings of the novel’s enchanting array of characters create a graceful picture of life that is both a universal portrait and an insider’s look at life in Latin America.
Remedios, la curandera, stands at the edge of the sea. The old healer is weary, a result, in part, of the countless times she has cocked her head in the direction of someone's story. Remedios knows the town's stories. Just as the sea, as their witness, knows them, too.
Remedios looks out over the deep. Tucked under an arm is the swordfish beak that is one of her prized possessions. She has owned it for many years. Usually she keeps the sword in her hut, on her altar, la mesa santa. Not today. Today she has brought the sword to the sea because it signifies the waters and the mighty fish that live there. She has brought it because el pico de pez espada helps her find those who have drowned.
Today Remedios awaits the one blue wave that will bring a corpse to shore. The body we wait for, she thinks, the sea will yield up. Today. Tomorrow. The sea cannot be rushed. The others wring their hands, hold their breaths on the far side of the crag, at the place where the river joins the sea. But not Remedios. El pico has led her to this spot, and it is here she'll keep her vigil.
Gathering her long dark skirt between her legs, Remedios squats on the shore. She lays el pico across her lap. Around her neck is the cord from which her medicine pouch hangs. The pouch rests directly over her heart and contains the secret talismans that fortify and empower her. Remedios spreads a palm over the little pouch, then reaches for the line of foamy brine rippling toward her. In the biting honesty of salt, the sea makes her secrets known to those who care to listen. She touches a finger to her tongue and the stories come.
A Place Where the Sea Remembers begins with one family's story and weaves itself through the village of Santiago and around the lifes of the many people who live there. As the novel unfolds, a landscape takes shape at once simple and complex. Yet so much happens behind the scenes -- does this add to the storytelling? Create a mood? How does Benitez show the complexity of life through the details of everyday living?
Remedios is the Spanish word for remedies. Remedios is also the name of one of the book's main characters. She is intricately woven into the book and the life of almost every character in Santiago. She is a wise woman -- the soothing, calm center which counteracts many of the characters' tragedies. Why does she choose to live apart from the town? How does Remedios counsel a remedy to those who trudge up the hill for healing and preservation? What remedies does she herself seek? What does this character represent for you?
InA Place Where the Sea Remembers, the characters are confronted with many feminist issues: rape, abortion, single parenthood, and too much machismo. How is the "woman's lot" illustrated in the book? Discuss how class plays a part in both how a woman behaves and is treated. In particular, compare Chayo's life to Esperanza's -- the life of dona Lina, Rafael's mother, to the doctor's wife.
In Mexico, indigenous spirituality and the Catholic Church are often at odds with one another. Still, many people choose to practice both. How does Benitez illustrate the difference between the two, and how are both important to the Mexican culture? Is it possible to find a balance between them?
The stroke of fate is a recurrent theme ofA Place Where the Sea Remembers. How does fate show itself to all the characters and play a part in their stories? What choices do these characters make as a result of what fate has given them?
Death is a recurrent theme of the book. In the case of the fisherman, it is only after the loss of his wife that Cesar is forced to emotionally connect with his son. Why does it take the death of the woman in the family before Cesar reaches out to Beto and becomes, truly, his father and nurturer? And what of the death of Richard, Marta's son? Is this death ascribed to fate or would you say it is retribution for Marta's revenge against her sister?
The sea is the central metaphor inA Place Where the Sea Remembers. It is a witness to all the characters' stories. How does the sea influence Remedios' life? How do the elements of earth, fire, water, and air sustain her? How do they sustain you?
Tragedy affects the lives of almost every character in the book. Discuss the nature of tragedy and how tragedy is something we grow from. Are the book's characters transformed by tragedy? How so?
Remedios says "It is stories that save us." Do you agree with her assertion? How does storytelling restore and preserve a people and their culture?
Recommended Readings A Death in the Sanchez Family, Oscar Lewis Penguin Modern Classics, 1918 Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya Warner Books, 1994 The Book of Embraces, Eduardo Galeano Norton, 1991 The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway Scribner, 1987 Dear Diego, Elena Poniatowska Pantheon. Books, 1986 Face of an Angel, Denise Chavez Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1994 The Portable Steinbeck, Edited by Pascal Covici, Jr. Penguin Books, 1981 The Stories of Eva Luna, Isabel Allende Knopf, 1990 Triumph and Tragedy: A History of the Mexican People, Ramon Eduardo Ruiz Norton, 1992 Woman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros Random House, 1991 All poems of Pablo Neruda All fiction of Gabriel Garcia Marquez