Winner of an 2003 IPPY Award in the Romance category!
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Thirty-five-year-old novelist, Shyla Wishon, fears that her life is spinning out of control since her recent marriage to Carl Cores. First, her overbearing new mother-in-law moves from New Jersey to Florida to be close to her son, followed by a steady stream of visiting relatives who become a constant intrusion on what was once her time to write. To make matters worse, Carl’s two grown daughters refuse to have anything to do with her, his former wife is still making demands, and even though Carl has a good job, bills are starting to pile up.
While she is in Naples, Florida, teaching a creative writing course, Shyla becomes intrigued with a student’s manuscript, The Immigrant, about Cuban refugees that bring the ancient beliefs of Regla de Ocha to America. Then the ideas in the manuscript start influencing her life.
Will Shyla need to lose her life to regain her Self?
As it was in the beginning, it had always been; and so it was now. Four people, three men and a woman, made their way single file on the stone path that marked its way through the dense foliage of flowering hibiscus and oleander, large crotons, and sweet-scented lantana. Some of plantings were large, some of them small; some of them grew in wild abandon, others in cultivated rows. The plants had been carefully selected, as had each stone, and brought together at this place in this form and pattern for the sole purpose of pleasing the orishas, those emissaries who ruled over every force of nature and every aspect of human life.
At the end of the path the four people came to a clearing surrounded by cypress trees, tall and aged. On a small jut of land, on the western-most point looking into the waters of the Gulf, this is where the altar stood. It was that time of day when things appeared diminished in definition and somewhat muted. Colors were no longer distinct, having faded into indistinguishable earth tones. Birds ceased their song, other creatures simply paused as though listening and waiting for the unfolding events of night; and like the disappearing sun far off in the horizon, everything was suddenly less visible. It was dusk in south Florida--in that mysterious place called Trégo.
Miguel, because he was the oldest of the three men, spread the white cloth on the flat stone in front of the altar. Juan lit four white candles, one candle for each of them. Jesus reverently arranged the special fruits and vegetables for the ceremony, pausing in silence between placements. Each offering had been specifically chosen for a particular god. The old woman, dressed in black with an assortment of colored beads around her neck, remained in the background, swaying slightly, her head upturned, uttering words of prayer. Maria Santiago Fanjul was the high priestess of Regla de Ocha, that most ancient of African religions from which began Santeria. Known simply as “The Guardian” to those who believed, she and she alone held the sum total of the knowledge, given to her by her mother, just as her mother had received it from her mother before her. That was the way it had always been. It was the only way.
These four had come once again to petition the orishas. Unless they received an answer to their petition, there would be no more ceremonies, no more oral traditions to pass down, no more Regla de Ocha. Maria was old; soon she would pass. According to the traditions of Regla de Ocha it was time for her to give her knowledge and wisdom, the inheritance, to another female related to her by blood. It was through this oral transference, the passing of knowledge from woman to woman, that Regla de Ocha was kept alive, as it had always been since the beginning of time.
The ceremony would go on for hours with the sprinkling of dust, the casting of shells, the chants, and the prayers spoken in the ancient language of Gaunche. Maria and her followers believed. This time, the orishas would send an answer. If not, these four people would return again and again, on the stone path leading through the plantings, with their sacraments and prayers, until they were heard.