Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 166
While recovering in the hospital, Sonny Braca begins to dream of his female ancestors even as women go missing from his New Mexico community. One by one, these bygone figures, both white and Native American, and their historic associates enter his mine. Sonny realizes that his shamanic rival, Raven, who can assume spirit form, is planting the dreams in his head. Sonny continues to search for the living, presumably kidnapped women, such as the mayor’s daughter, but soon his interior states are vying with actual fieldwork in helping him solve the mysteries.
Wary of susceptibility to the fiendish Raven’s magical manipulations, he enlists help from Don Eliseo to understand his ancestry and thus prevent Raven from killing them and changing history so much that he will not even be born. Thus Sonny traces his own line back to shamans, with the colonial-era Owl Woman, as well as settlers; this empowering information gives him reserves of strength to continue battling Raven on both metaphysical planes.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 594
Shaman Winter, the fourth volume in Anaya’s Albuquerque quartet, represents the series’ most experimental exploration of the intricate link that Anaya sees between sleuthing and discovering cultural and ethnic identity in a multicultural contemporary world.
As in the other volumes in the quartet, Shaman Winter centers on the confrontation between Sonny Braca, a heroic detective, and his nemesis Raven, an evil cult leader of radical environmental activists, a charismatic chameleon-like power broker who, with fanatic commitment, leads antinuclear protests in terroristic acts of mayhem to promote their agenda. He presents an imposing challenge to Braca: Articulate and intelligent, championing the defense of the New Mexico landscape (although through nefarious means), he is also a brujo, or shaman, able to assume the shape of a raven at will.
In this closing volume, however, the confrontation between the two characters turns decidedly metaphysical (to the dismay of many critics of the book who see the metaphysical elements as heavy-handed and didactic). There is a conventional thriller plot: The mayor’s teenage daughter is kidnapped by white supremacists under the direction of Raven (four raven feathers are found on her pillow). Yet Anaya develops much of this narrative within the dreamworld of Sonny, who has been hospitalized from his showdown with Raven in Rio Grande Fall and is now wheelchair-bound. Sonny is haunted by strange dreams that send him into a richly symbolic landscape of an ancient New Mexico, where he encounters both mythic characters of traditional folklore as well as a steady succession of historic figures who represent the incursion of the European settlers, from the arrival of the conquistadores to the establishment of the Anglo government in the mid-nineteenth century and the relocation of the indigenous peoples onto controlled reservations. Raven, who comes to assume the full potent powers of a mythic sorcerer-figure, determines that, to destroy his archenemy once and for all, he will enter Sonny’s dreams and there destroy Sonny’s ancestors, thus effectively removing Sonny from history. It is a provocative premise.
Sonny is led through the world of spirits by a wisdom-figure named Don Eliseo, who directs Sonny toward the realization that he descends from the union of an Anglo and a hauntingly beautiful native woman, herself the daughter of a shaman who comes to be threatened by Raven. Amid that complex narrative of capture and pursuit, Sonny accepts the reality of his mixed heritage, indeed affirming that cultural identity itself must transcend the stubbornly persistent boundaries of nationality and race. As such a multicultural figure, Sonny embodies what Anaya sees as a cosmic—rather than culture-bound—race. Sonny emerges as a figure of genesis and creation, while Raven serves as the embodiment of death and destruction. By the close of the novel, the wounded Sonny has recovered not only physically but spiritually as well and has emerged from the dense darkness of the metaphoric winter to the promise of becoming a shaman in his own right.
In the pitched mystical battle between Sonny and Raven (their names indicating their allegorical positioning), Anaya does more than recite the familiar grievances of indigenous peoples against the incursion of English-speaking cultures. Anaya opts for a far broader philosophical speculation on race and cultural identity itself through the metaphor of kidnapping as a vehicle for exploring the loss and recovery of identity. Using powerful symbols and allegorical figures drawn from Latino culture, Anaya affirms that the necessity of discovering historic heritage and cultural identity serves as a premise for ultimately transcending the limits of such identities to embrace a wider cosmic sensibility.
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