Selected as the first winner of Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize, Kissing the Virgin's Mouth is a beautifully written, lyrical first novel that offers a rare window into another culture. Its irresistible heroine takes the reader into her Mexican world and the experience is unforgettable.
Barbara Kingsolver founded the Bellwether Prize in support of a literature of social change. In her words, Donna Gershten's novel has "the kind of political boldness and complexity we're hoping to promote with this prize. It sets a standard for what we're defining as a literature of social responsibility."
Kissing the Virgin's Mouth is the fictional memoir of Guadalupe Magdalena Molina Vásquez -- wife, scoundrel, courtesan, and mother. In a world where gender and class roles are unbending, and religion predominant, Magda creates a philosophy of life that she can thrive in, a religion of cynical optimism, pragmatism, and determined gratitude. The invincible yet fallible Magda climbs from the poor barrio of a coastal Mexican town to American affluence, from wide-eyed childhood to worldly courtesan life, from full-blooded youth to oncoming blindness.
In the Golden Zone of Teatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico, where tourists and wealthy Mexicans thrive and where poor Mexicans come only to work or to visit the shrine of the miracle baby Jesus, Guadalupe Magdalena Molina Vásquez performs her daily ritual. In the chair of her beloved Tía Chucha, mortared to the roof of her Golden Zone home, Magda shaves her long legs, tells her life stories, and thrusts her fierce prayers of gratitude toward the Sea of Cortés.
"More cabrón than hunger is the person who has suffered it," Magda says, and in her unsentimental and savvy fashion, she recounts her life strategies -- seasoned with an earthy, hard-earned wisdom -- so that she might pass them along to her half-American daughter, Martina, and to her young Mexican cousin, Isabel.
Kissing the Virgin's Mouth is a novel about love, the power of sex, and the struggles of women. It is about the secrets of survival. It is about what a woman can do.
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Donna M. Gershten was born in eastern North Carolina and later lived for some years in Sinaloa, Mexico, where she ran a fitness and community center. She returned to the United States, received a M.F.A. in creative writing from Warren Wilson College, and began to publish short stories in literary journals. Gershten now divides her time between the Huerfano Valley in southern Colorado and Denver. Kissing the Virgin's Mouth is her first novel.From Publishers Weekly:
Choosing to tell her debut novel from the point of view of a Mexican woman, North Carolina native Gershten produces a moving, convincing tale. Born in Teatl n (for which read Mazatl n) at mid-century long before it became a resort, narrator Guadalupe Magdalena Molina V squez embodies most of the contradictions of Mexico itself: she believes in love but is suspicious of men; she rejects religion but yearns for faith; and she respects tradition while breaking all the rules. The adult Magda describes her coming of age in the barrio, selling the corn-based drink tejuino in short shorts at age 14 and making more money than her father. Driven out of town three years later by the League of Decency--a cover for jealous wives--Magda becomes a go-go dancer in Tijuana, a rich rancher's wife in Monterrey, then marries a professor and lives in Idaho for a dozen years. Always, however, she is drawn back to Teatl n, even at the cost of being separated from her half-gringa daughter, Martina, for months at a time. Magda endures every form of abuse, and it is no surprise that the novel is dedicated to "all the whores in history." Magda may not be a winner in the tradition of unsinkable heroes, but she is not a loser, either. She is unafraid to use, learn and move on, and she is independent, determined not to succumb to the demands of her native country or her adopted one. Agent, Jean Naggar. (Mar.)Forecast: Gershten's appropriation of Mexican themes and language--Spanish colloquialisms pepper the text--may strike some readers as condescending, but this spirited novel, the first recipient of Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for a work of socially or politically engaged fiction, will ultimately win over most skeptics. Author appearances in the Southwest, Denver and North Carolina and a 15-city NPR campaign should get sales off to a good start.
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