cover image Our Lady of the Night

Our Lady of the Night

Mayra Santos-Febres, , trans. from the Spanish by Ernesto Mestre-Reed. . Harper Perennial, $13.99 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-06-173130-3

Set in the early- to mid-20th century, the latest from Santos-Febres (Sirena Selena ) brings to life the story of Isabel “La Negra” Luberza Oppenheimer, Puerto Rico's most infamous madam and owner of Elizabeth's Dancing Place. The daughter of a migrant worker, Isabel is abandoned as a baby and raised by a kindly godmother until her early teenage years, when she is sent to work as a servant for a local aristocratic family. Later, she becomes entangled with prominent bachelor Fernando Fornarís, and things heat up: a pregnancy, her foray into selling black market booze and an expansion into becoming “not a madam, an emancipated woman” at a very steep cost. A complicated look into the notorious woman's struggle for a liberated and independent life, the book takes a boldly feminist stance that, thankfully, is not a woeful account of maternal guilt. The style can be heavy-handed, but Isabel remains, to her tragic end, a marvelously constructed character. (Aug.)