November 6, 2009

Just because a story isn’t often told doesn’t mean it never happened. In her first novel, Daughters of the Stone (St. Martin’s Press), Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa traces five
generations of female strength, resistance and survival. Beginning with African slavery in Puerto Rico and ending in contemporary New York City, Llanos-Figueroa
uses her own Afro-Puerto Rican family history as a model for her characters’ experiences with finding a sense of
community and belonging.

Throughout the novel, struggles with underemployment, language barriers and institutional racism mix with tales of relationships blossoming and dying. Yet between these stories are smaller accounts of land grabs, battles with mental illness and opposition to the barbarism of (white, male) academia. For every story of success, there is a setback. Nevertheless, the women in Llanos-Figueroa’s world retain remarkable composure, grace and sense of self.

An ancient spiritual reverence connects the five women, as their strength and power are passed down through a small black stone, the book’s namesake. Symbolizing female vitality, matriarchal bonds and ties to African religions, the stone is both a physical representation and a compelling metaphor.

The best fiction allows the reader to believe that the stories—critical dispatches not so far removed from reality—could be true. Llanos-Figueroa’s deeply personal work is a landmark example of a people’s history that, while fictionalized, is nevertheless wholly true to life.