cover image Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story

Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story

Ruth Behar. Beacon Press (MA), $25 (372pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-7052-9

In 1985 Behar, a feminist anthropologist working in Mexico, befriended street peddler Esperanza Hernandez, an Indian rumored to be a witch--townspeople claimed she used black magic to blind her ex-husband after he had regularly battered her and then left her for his mistress. In Behar's novelistic telling of Esperanza's life story, we meet a macha woman whose arrogance alienated her own mother, and whom Behar implausibly casts as a feminist heroine. Esperanza, who found redemption in a spiritist cult built around Pancho Villa, blames her pent-up rage for the deaths in infancy of the first six of her 12 children. She beat up her husband's lover and threw one of her sons out of the household; she also beat a daughter for refusing to support her and disowned another son for having what she considered an incestuous affair with his uncle's ex-mistress. Behar, who teaches at the University of Michigan, strains to find parallels between her own experience as a Cuban immigrant and that of her bellicose subject. Photos. (Feb.)