In So Far From God, author Ana Castillo employs a fast-paced blend of Mexican American and Native American tradition, storytelling, and telenovela drama to relate the struggles of Sofia and her four daughters. Castillo's novel immerses readers in a Chicana feminist sensibility and explores themes such as religious faith, careers, relationships, and encounters with mainstream Anglo culture. Magical realism and its dream-like imagery give readers an expanded way to examine and experience these issues.
A memorable scene that employs a sense of magical realism is the treatment that La Loca receives for HIV. An isolated and sometimes revered person (due to her death and resurrection at age three), La Loca avoids human contact, allowing only her mother and sisters near her. Therefore, how she contracts HIV is unknown and cannot be explained.
La Loca doesn't want to go to the hospital due to the terrible treatments her sister Fe received for cancer; she believes that hospitals are where people go to die. Sofia then calls on Dr. Tolentino, the elderly country doctor and family physician. After an examination, the doctor and his wife diagnose Loca with HIV.
Although he is a Northwestern University educated MD, Dr. Tolentino wants to use a folk tradition to heal Loca. He asks Sofia to have faith in the Holy Spirit (which perhaps they did not have during Fe's treatments, ironically enough). "We are now in the age of Spirit," Dr. Tolentino tells Sofia. He continues, "If we do not have faith altogether, there is no hope for any of us—es decir, en todo el mundo."
After an opening prayer, Dr. Tolentino performs psychic surgery on La Loca: he appears to place his hand into her stomach and extracts a "bloody coagulation" along with a tumor, which he drops into a nearby bowl. Despite his willingness to use this unorthodox method, Dr. Tolentino states he may not be able to cure La Loca because AIDS is a mystery both in its origin and its cure.
The disease is so mysterious and overwhelming that even Doña Felicia, the confident, experienced curandera, admits she may not be able to find a remedy. Dr. Tolentino's psychic surgery might prolong La Loca's life, but he understands that death is inevitable. Loca's situation mirrors the fear and frustration felt by patients and doctors during the height of the AIDS crisis, when its origins were still a theory and a cure did not seem apparent. La Loca's story relates that at that time and place, the illness had to be dealt with through faith.
Yet the doctor's psychic surgery and the other folk remedies the characters employ seem to have some positive effect. When the time does come for Loca to pass, she does so in peace. Despite their struggles and tragedies, the ways Sofia and her daughters deal with the unusual in their lives (and their efforts to find answers centered in folk tradition and in women's power) ultimately lift them from the ordinary to become heroines: dynamic representations of Xicanisma.