Ana Castillo : biography
Ana Castillo (born 15 June 1953) is a Mexican-American Chicana novelist, poet, short story writer, and essayist.
So Far from God
So Far from God, Castillo’s third novel (1993), might best be described as a telenovela, in which intimate details of people’s loves and losses are told, and what will happen in the next day’s broadcast is hinted at. The novel, set in the tiny village of Tome, New Mexico, employs magic realism to examine the lives of Mexican-American women on the borders. The character Sofi, a middle-aged single mother, and her four daughters live at a crossroads between Chicano, Mexican, Spanish, and First Nations cultures. While juggling her small business duties and childcare, Sofi confronts both the modern technological moment and ageless traditions of birth, growth, and loss; for comfort, she and her neighbors are immersed in competing religious traditions of Catholicism, curanderismo, and folk-traditions concerning the nature of the spirit.
As the novel opens, La Loca, Sofi’s youngest daughter, dies, examines the details of hell, and then comes back to Tome to live. Since she has experienced much of the spirit world, it is no wonder that she has epileptic fits, cannot stand the smell of people (preferring the company of horses), frequently talks with the Mexican-American folk character La Llorona, and despite her lack of body, dies once more of AIDS. Sofi’s next youngest daughter’s barhopping lifestyle leads to her rape, but not by a man, by la Malogra, a New Mexican folkloric monster said to haunt empty highways. Miraculously healed, this daughter, whose name is Caridad, trains to become a curandera (traditional healer), and joins the annual pilgrimage to Chimayo, where she meets her beloved, a woman. Francisco, the village santero (saint-carver), stalks Caridad, only to see her leap, with her beloved, from the great heights of Acoma, the pueblo built atop a mountain which was difficult for Spanish conquerors to take by surprise; and thus her exit enacts freedom from her male pursuer, freedom from “conquest,” and untouchable and undying faith in her love. Fe, the next daughter in line, immerses herself in a relentless pursuit of the American Dream, which for her include a husband and a house of her own. Led by her employer’s promises of more money, she undertakes jobs that place her in contact with dangerous chemicals, until she sickens and dies of cancer. Sofi’s eldest daughter, Esperanza, gains an education and moves away to have a life independent of that of the village. However, her job as news anchorwoman takes her to Saudi Arabia, where she is killed in the war. Her spirit walks with that of La Llorona in Tome’s acequia (irrigation channel) and frequently converses with La Loca.
At the novel’s conclusion, Sofi is strengthened, not destroyed, by the loss of her daughters and turns away from the traditional life of the home-maker to the life of a politician and reformer, seeking to create a weaving cooperative. Interestingly, names in this novel form a kind of allegory. Sofi, whose name means “wisdom,” having lost, in her daughters, the Christian tenets of faith (Fe), hope (Esperanza) and charity (Caridad), places her wisdom and strength at the service of her neighbors so that they may continue to survive.
So Far from God is set within the United States, but as a border novel, it is neither Mexican nor American, but a hybrid form which records history and traditions in both cultures. Its title is from a quotation by Mexican president Porfirio Diaz ["Pobre Mexico tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos." ("Poor Mexico so far from God and so close to the United States.")], a man who carried both Spanish and Indian genes, and who was popular for a time for refusing to join with the last foreign emperor of Mexico, Maximilian I of Mexico.
Critical studies since 2000 (English only)
- Castillo’s ‘Burra, Me’, ‘La Burra Mistakes Friendship with a Lashing’, and ‘The Friend Comes Back to Teach the Burra’ By: Ruiz-Velasco, Chris; Explicator, 2007 Winter; 65 (2): 121-24.
- ‘The Pleas of the Desperate’: Collective Agency versus Magical Realism in Ana Castillo’s So Far From God By: Caminero-Santangelo, Marta; Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 2005 Spring; 24 (1): 81-103.
- Violence in the Borderlands: Crossing the Home Space in the Novels of Ana Castillo By: Johnson, Kelli Lyon; Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 2004; 25 (1): 39-58.
- Literary Syncretism in Ana Castillo’s So Far From God By: Alarcón, Daniel Cooper; Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, 2004; 23: 145-52.
- The Second Tower of Babel: Ana Castillo’s Borgesian Precursors in The Mixquiahuala Letters By: Jirón-King, Shimberlee; Philological Quarterly, 2003 Fall; 82 (4): 419-40.
- Creating a Resistant Chicana Aesthetic: The Queer Performativity of Ana Castillo’s So Far from God By: Mills, Fiona; CLA Journal, 2003 Mar; 46 (3): 312-36.
- The Homoerotic Tease and Lesbian Identity in Ana Castillo’s Work By: Gómez-Vega, Ibis; Crítica Hispánica, 2003; 25 (1-2): 65-84.
- Ana Castillo’s So Far from God: Intimations of the Absurd By: Manríquez, B. J.; College Literature, 2002 Spring; 29 (2): 37-49.
- Hybrid Latina Identities: Critical Positioning In-Between Two Cultures By: Mujcinovic, Fatima; Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, 2001 Spring; 13 (1): 45-59.
- Con un pie a cada lado’/With a Foot in Each Place: Mestizaje as Transnational Feminisms in Ana Castillo’s So Far from God By: Gillman, Laura; Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, 2001; 2 (1): 158-75.
- La Llorona and a Call for Environmental Justice in the Borderlands: Ana Castillo’s So Far from God By: Cook, Barbara J.; Northwest Review, 2001; 39 (2): 124-33.
- Chicana/o Fiction from Resistance to Contestation: The Role of Creation in Ana Castillo’s So Far from God By: Rodriguez, Ralph E.; MELUS, 2000 Summer; 25 (2): 63-82.
- Rebellion and Tradition in Ana Castillo’s So Far from God and Sylvia López-Medina’s Cantora By: Sirias, Silvio; MELUS, 2000 Summer; 25 (2): 83-100.
- Gritos desde la Frontera: Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, and Postmodernism By: Mermann-Jozwiak, Elisabeth; MELUS, 2000 Summer; 25 (2): 101-18.
- Chicana Feminist Narratives and the Politics of the Self By: Elenes, C. Alejandra; Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 2000; 21 (3): 105-23.
- ‘Saint-Making’ in Ana Castillo’s So Far from God: Medieval Mysticism as Precedent for an Authoritative Chicana Spirituality By: Sauer, Michelle M.; Mester, 2000; 29: 72-91.