Book Review: All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry

Review by Elena Foulis

Summary from author’s website:

Sarah Jacqueline Crow and James Holt work in the vast maguey fields that span the bone-dry Southwest, a thirsty, infinite land that is both seductive and fearsome. In this rough, transient landscape, Sarah Jac and James have fallen in love. They’re tough and brave, and they have big dreams. Soon they will save up enough money to go east. But until then, they keep their heads down, their muscles tensed, and above all, their love secret.

When a horrible accident forces Sarah Jac and James to start over on a new, possibly cursed ranch called the Real Marvelous, the delicate balance they’ve found begins to give way. And James and Sarah Jac will have to pay a frighteningly high price for their love.

My two cents:

All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry is a novel that offers a different type of love story. Although the book description focuses on the protagonists’ love relationship, the novel is much more than that. Situated in the maguey fields where Sarah Jac and James work as skilled jimadors, along with many others, the landscape is as important as Sarah Jac and James’ commitment to stay together. That is, their love story is rooted in the realization that family and commitment go beyond romantic feelings, this, I find, offers a fresh alternative for YA readers.

After an accident in Truth and Consequences—that results in the death of one of the foremen—our protagonists are forced to flee and find work at a different farm. They travel by jumping onto trains, staying together and pretending they are cousins when people are around. Despite the warnings of danger and out of necessity, they end up at the Real Marvelous, another maguey plantation.

Mabry names the farm the “Real Marvelous” alluding to the narrative genre of lo real maravilloso first used in Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of This World (1949). In lo real maravilloso, and in Carpentier’s novel, the characters and the action create a fantastical world—full of folk stories, cures, rituals and in which the environment are part of the lives of the people who inhabit it. Indeed, the place called the Marvelous Real requires the reader to accept a new logic and people’s relationships to place and belonging. In this sense, predictions and premonitions are believed and taken seriously by the people who hear them, and each tragedy is connected to a type of curse. The identification with the land, as experienced by the jimadors and others who live in this place, is made palpable by how the weather affects their work, moods and even horrific accidents such as the one when a girl is chewed and killed by one the foreman’s mastiffs.

The Marvelous Real, both the place and genre, embraces disorder and confusion. Sarah Jac and James love is threatened when they are made to work in the owner’s home. Sarah works as a horse trainer for Bell the youngest daughter and James works in the house, close to Farrah the oldest daughter. For Sarah, it is evident that James is under a spell and has forgotten about their plan to save enough money and buy land on the east coast. Mabry does an excellent job of slowly disclosing background information about how Sarah and James meet, Sarah’s life before James and the death of her sister Lane.

The ending of this story stays true to the rest of the narrative technique. There is confusion, disorder, half-truths, and a large-scale rebellion between the jimadors, foremen and land owner. This brings about freedom and a new life for Sarah Jac, James and a new sister.

Teaching tips:

Because this novel talks about the lives and condition of low-wage transient jimadors and maguey farming, it would be appropriate to discuss this in more detail. The use of Lo Real Maravilloso is essential to a better understanding of the action of the novel and the connection with Latin America and indigenous communities in the southwestern United States.

About the author from her website:

Samantha Mabry grew up in Dallas and attended college at Southern Methodist University. She majored in English literature, minored in Spanish, and studied Latin and Classics. She received a master’s degree in English from Boston College. She teaches in a community college in Dallas and spends as much time as possible in the west Texas desert.

 

 

 

 

Reviewer’s bio:

Elena Foulis has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, and Digital Oral History. Dr. Foulis is currently working on a digital oral history project about Latin@s in Ohio, which is being archived at the Center for Folklore Studies’ internet collection. Some of these narratives can be found in her iBook titled, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio.

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