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CONQUISTADORA

Ana’s Legacy: Abuse of Power,
a Book Club Discussion
By Neely Kennedy

In the LHJ August book club pick, Conquistadora, author Esmeralda Santiago, tells the historical-fiction epic, set in the mid-19th century, of one woman’s unwavering ambition. Ana Larragoity Cubillas Nieves, inspired by her brazen explorer ancestors who once sailed with Columbus in discovery of the New World, hatches a plan to persuade her future husband and twin brother to move from Spain and purchase a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico. In search of her own pioneer adventure and legacy, she is willing to sacrifice at any cost.

Below are examples that outline Conquistadora as the ultimate operator—a person who’s personality allows the abuse of power as a means to an end, and how that callus ambition leads to supporting a lifetime of human enslavement, calculated manipulation, cruelty and ruin.

Love—Once passionately in love with her childhood friend, Elena, Ana’s cruel ability to emotionally dissolve any relationship that doesn’t fit into the equation of her ambitions is first revealed.

“Ana’s gaze had turned toward her future, and her attachment to Elena, though once powerful and satisfying, had already begun to recede like a ship inexorably into the horizon.”

Sexuality—Understanding the power of her sexuality as a tool of influence to advance her plan to become a plantation mistress, she allows her husband and his twin to share her.

“Ramon and Inocente, lackluster or even at times brutal as it was, was the price she had to pay for the world on the other side of the island.”

Business—Dehumanizing the slaves of her plantation provides Ana the physiological side-step to avoid the guilt of slave oppression and defend what she defines as a necessary evil in the pursuit of a successful sugar plantation.

“She was kind to them, yes, he could see that, but she didn’t see them as human beings, Eugenio thought. They were tools.”

Motherhood—After her son Miguel is born, Ana finds she lacks the expected natural mother’s instinct. When an opportunity arises that can forever secure her to the plantation by sending her son away to live with his grandparents, she is eager to make the trade.

“Does he remember me? Ana answered her own question; of course not. She was a darker shadow in Miguel’s life than her parents were in hers. She felt a pang of remorse but waved it away like a fly that came too near. If she allowed it, she might look at her life too closely, might review her choices and perhaps even bend under repentance. No, she said. No regrets.”

From time to time, a sliver of her humanity bubbles up into her repressed conscience, but with selfish purpose to pursue the singular pioneering vision of her forefathers, Ana resolves. Valuing her unflappable commitment to her legacy quest above all else, she vows to pay any price necessary.

“But as soon as she was aware of them, she pushed those thoughts away because she felt disloyal to herself. This is my life now, she reminded herself, the one I worked so hard to get. No one will ever know what it costs, only what I’ve created.”

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