Loss and survival

A couple days ago I finished “Under the Feet of Jesus” by Helena Maria Viramontes. It was a good, but challenging read for me because often the characters spoke in Spanish. And the dialogue was written in such a way that you had to follow carefully because it never said who was speaking.

I very much enjoyed the imagery in this book. You could visualize the sunsets, orchards and views of the old barn. You can just imagine the desolate home they live in, dusty and falling apart but the view from their window is gorgeous.

The main character is Estrella, she is 13 years old and the story is about her and her family. She meets a migrant worker in the fields, Alejo, and they fall in love with each other, though he is far more smitten from the start. It’s amusing to hear them talk to each other, she is stand-offish and independent. But it’s in the description of how they act towards each other that you see a bond developing. Upsettingly enough he grows very ill and while Estrella’s family takes him in to care for him they end up having to travel very far to a hospital and leave him. It’s touching and upsetting. Estrella doesn’t really know how to cope with it and even at the end of the book she sits alone in the barn and looks at the stars.

Estrella’s Mom, Petra, is pregnant and her husband, Perfecto, hasn’t been told, but he knows and he’s not happy about it. We aren’t told their ages, but it is clear that Perfecto is a great deal older…perhaps by even 25 years. He spends a lot of time weighing the option of staying with the family or running. It bothers me because no one calls him out on it, even though they see him struggling with the decision. This is probably because Estrella’s paternal father left them when she was very young and they don’t want to see it happen again.

Estrella’s younger brothers spend most of their time in the orchards picking fruit. It’s not clear if they are supposed to be in the orchards though because often times it seems they are running or hiding. It’s almost as if they go early in the morning, pick the fruit and then sell it. Even so the family never seems to have more than $9 in the home at any given time.

The title of the book is actually a different biblical reference than I anticipated. It is a reference to a statue where Petra prays, there is a serpent underneath the feet of Jesus. I believe this image further adds to the theme of commitment and courage in the story.

The story is filled with many struggles and obstacles. It is admirable how strong Estrella remains at her young age. She endures pain, extremely hot days, hard labor and she just keeps going. She is a brave young woman and the book was quite enjoyable.


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