cover image Our Lives Are the Rivers

Our Lives Are the Rivers

Jaime Manrique, . . Rayo, $24.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-06-082070-1

Manrique (Latin Moon in Manhattan ) distills the tumultuous last years of colonial South America through the life of Manuela Sáenz (1797–1856), the controversial mistress of Gen. Simón Bolívar. A veteran spy in Peru's successful, early 1820s struggle against Spanish rule, Ecuadorian Manuela meets Simón, a Venezuelan aristocrat who led five South American nations to independence, while she suffers the de facto slavery of an arranged marriage to a wealthy, possessive Englishman, James Thorne. In her relationship with Simón, Manuela finds passion and renewed purpose, earning the moniker "liberator of the Liberator" after pushing Bolívar out a window to help him escape assailants. She remains loyal to Bolívar until his death in 1830 and earns the rank of colonel in battlefield heroics along the way. Haphazardly placed chapters in the voices of Manuela's black slaves, Natán and Jonotás, offer further perspectives on Manuela and Simón's vision of freedom; it would be rejected by South America as tyranny, leading, among other things, to Manuela's exile from Colombia, her destitution and her burial in an unmarked Peruvian grave at the novel's bittersweet conclusion. An epic page-turner that swells with ecstatic love and righteous anger, Manrique's latest skillfully recreates an inspired pair, and their times. (Mar.)