A Decent Woman: A Novel. Eleanor Parker Sapia. Libertary Co. February 2015. 270 pp. ISBN #: 9781620154007.
Ana Belen Opaku is a midwife in turn of the 20th century Ponce, Puerto Rico (the author uses the old spelling of Porto Rico). She’s working without a midwife certificate which could make a great deal of trouble. She’s also illiterate which makes matters worse! But Ana is a truly remarkable, perceptive, sensitive, skilled and compassionate woman! She delivers children for Serafina and becomes a good friend over time.
The beauty of this story lies in Ana’s description of her fears and strength during fierce storms and hurricanes; her following African Yoruba spiritual practices and Western religious rites, combined with her skilled application of medicinal plants to facilitate easy births and protect the newborn lives she cherishes. Folklore from Africa and Cuba make this a multi-layered tale that truly evokes understanding of Puerto Rico’s culture and society.
One of Serafina’s children is born stillborn and because her last child died shortly after birth, she must defend herself against criminal charges. Ana provides the testimony Serafina needs to be judged innocent and that cements their close relationship forever.
Ana now must deal with the opposition of a local parish priest, Padre Vicente, and a local physician, Dr. Hector Rivera. Their action pushes Ana to learn to read and obtain her certificate. Serafina’s husband dies and she later marries a rich man. Ana follows her and their friendship grows even more as Ana’s life dramatically changes.
A Decent Woman... has no huge plot but instead gives the reader a gracefully evolving story of the struggle for women to survive independently in a male-dominated culture, the dignity of women who are treated as possessions meant to serve men, the need for women to share dangerous secrets which may bring trust or betrayal, and most of all the sharing of the beauty of the cycles of life and death.
A remarkable account that is obviously well-researched, understood and conveyed with grace and passion! Highly recommended!