Introduction

The Years with Laura Díaz begins and ends with Santiago López-Alfaro making a television documentary, first in Detroit in 1999 and then in Los Angeles in 2000. In Detroit, while looking at a mural painted by Diego Rivera, he sees the face of Laura Díaz, the woman whose story is covered in the ensuing pages; at the end of the novel, he is looking at another mural by a Mexican painter, whose work, like Rivera’s, was also censured and obliterated.

The framing device sets the plot in motion, taking readers back to 1905, when Laura’s grandmother, Cosima Kelsen, is traveling from Mexico City to the family home in Veracruz. On the trip home, a dashing bandit nicknamed the Hunk of Papantla cuts off her fingers in order to steal her rings, but, inexplicably, a legend develops that Cosima never got over her infatuation with the bandit. That legend is but one of many that persists in family history. At her home in Catemaco, Cosima has three daughters: the pianist Hilda, the writer Virginia, and Leticia, Laura’s mother. She also “adopts” Maria de la O, her husband Felipe’s mulatto daughter. At Cosima’s funeral, Laura follows a white crow (more legend) to what she believes is a giant female figure covered with jewels, a sight that recurs later in the novel.

When Laura and Leticia join Leticia’s husband, Fernando, in Veracruz, where he has become a bank president, Laura meets the first Santiago, her half brother, the son from Fernando’s first marriage, and the two become very close. Santiago, a revolutionary, is executed by a firing squad, and Fernando is transferred to Xalapa. Laura marries Juan Francisco López Greene, a labor leader, and has two sons, Santiago and Danton, but she is unhappy, believing that she has “shrunk” rather than grown. She realizes that she knows only Francisco’s public self, not his private self. After Francisco informs on Carmela Soriano, a rebel, Laura leaves her husband and...

(The entire section is 792 words.)