The Sad Passions
344 pp., 6 x 9 in, 17 b&w illus.
- Published: May 17, 2013
The lyrical story of a Mexican family torn apart by the fragility and madness of one of its members.
Told by six women in one family, Veronica Gonzalez Pena's The Sad Passions captures the alertness, beauty, and terror of childhood lived in proximity to madness. Set against the backdrop of a colonial past, spanning three generations, and shuttling from Mexico City to Oaxaca to the North Fork of Long Island to Veracruz, The Sad Passions is the lyrical story of a middle-class Mexican family torn apart by the undiagnosed mental illness of Claudia, a lost child of the 1960s and the mother of four little girls.
It is 1960, and the wild and impulsive sixteen-year-old Claudia elopes from her comfortable family home in Mexico City with Miguel, a seductive drifter who will remain her wandering husband for the next twenty years. Hitchhiking across the United States with Miguel, sometimes spending the night in jails, Claudia stops sleeping and begins seeing visions. Abandoned at a small clinic in Texas, she receives electroshock treatment while seven months pregnant with her first daughter. Afterward, Miguel leaves her, dumb and drooling, at her mother's doorstep.
Living more often at her mother's home than with Miguel, Claudia will give birth to four girls. But when Julia, her second daughter, is inexplicably given away to a distant relation in Los Angeles, Claudia's fragile, uncertain state comes to affect everyone around her. Julia's disappearance—which could symbolize the destabilizing effect of manic depression—will become the organizing myth in all of the daughters' unsettled lives; for if one can disappear, why not all of them?
In Veronica Gonzalez-Peña's The Sad Passions, four sisters, daughters of a mad mother, devoted to her and afraid of her, tell their versions of a tortured family romance. The sisters' and mother's raw, impassioned voices are intricately interwoven, and, Rashomon-like, the novel speaks of familial love's strange demands, harsh effects, and lasting ties. Veronica Gonzalez Peña's The Sad Passions is honest and riveting.
In Veronica Gonzalez's truthtelling novel of four bright sisters growing up with a mentally ill mother, the lucid, elegant writing defies the very havoc it describes. Built of multiple voices, with curious, haunting photographs, The Sad Passions is immersive, harrowing, and wonderfully intelligent.
Michelle Huneven, author of Blam
Five women, including a mother and her now grown daughter, Julia, who was discarded when she was young, narrate this novel of fractured family, selves, and hearts, which gently mesmerizes with its rhythmic prose, and the emotionally rich and complex strategies each woman employs in telling her story. A beautiful and moving choral tale of isolation, love, damage, and intimate struggles. Its many landscapes, especially Mexico City, sing too.
Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name: A Novel
For all of the effects of erasure and absence on The Sad Passions, the narration is incredibly present, crawling on the page in spidery, sprawling observations, setting up pools and lairs that lure a reader in.
Los Angeles Times
The Sad Passions, Veronica Gonzalez Peña's extraordinary novel of desire, loss, and matrilineal history, explodes the teenage pregnancy script through its unflinching plumbing of the bond between mother and daughter. The Sad Passions begins with a story we think we know, and then shows us how little any of us understand: about our ancestors, our parents, ourselves.
The Los Angeles Review of Books
An exquisite and moving panorama of late 20th century life in Mexico and the US.
California Literary Review
I like the way the [cover] image moves with this novel, the way the absence becomes the presence. Veronica Gonzalez Peña does not write absence as a form of lack, her absence froths and grows agitated, it fills up the page with pulsing need.