— Book Review — “ The Soledad Crucifixion ” Title: “The Soledad Crucifixion” Author: Nancy Wood ISBN: 978-0-8263-5128-9 $21.95 paperback, 336 pages Published: September 2012 Publisher: University of New Mexico Press, www.unmpress.com By Rosanne Boyett Beacon Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Book review articles are available online at www.cibolabeacon.com/bookreviews. Author Nancy Wood explores the relationships between a small Native American community and the Catholic Church in the 1860s. She leads the reader through a tangled jungle of interpersonal relationships between parish residents and the last Catholic priest to serve the tiny, remote village in northern New Mexico. The book begins with a description of the “sacrificial” death of Lorenzo Soledad, the current priest. “Soledad had been on the cross for an hour. The worst of his pain had passed, and he felt only a spreading numbness, from his head down to his feet. An unfamiliar peace began to filter into his brain,” wrote Wood. The protagonist is an unwilling convert to Catholicism. He chose entering the seminary as a teenager instead of facing murder charges. The consequences of that one brutal act haunt him throughout his life. Soledad’s recalcitrance to abide by Church doctrine results in his eventual assignment to an outpost parish. He hears rumors about the last priest. Villagers imply that the previous padre had been crucified. Looking at the crumbling remains of the church, Soledad begins to believe that possibly there is truth in the rumor. He is appalled by the rampant ignorance and poverty he finds in every home. “This rooster is inbred, Ana Coyote,” Soledad tells the elderly woman.”Like this village. For years and years, you have married first cousins. Aunts. Uncles. Isn’t that so?” Soledad arrived believing that he could bring “light” to the small Native American tribe and educate them to guarantee their survival. The villagers have been told they must cede their lands to the government. “Other men came, silently finding their way by moonlight. They stopped and picked out familiar stars, brothers to their wandering souls . . . A great melancholy descended on them, for each knew in his heart that at this time next year, they would be in the Arizona desert next to their hated enemies, the Navajo,” wrote Wood. Soledad finds himself strongly attracted to the tribe’s religious practices. He ceases to proselytize and begins adopting the mannerisms of his neighbors and their belief in the guiding principles of the natural world. “Let them have their rituals,” he thought, with only a twinge of regret. They believe in them. It does no harm.” The Roman Catholic Church sends two envoys to document Soledad’s death and to verify his “sainthood.” The Southwest entraps the two priests with its own “magic.” One eventually acknowledges his homosexuality and the other falls in love with Muy Contenta, the owner of a whorehouse. The village is reborn as a religious tourism destination after Soledad’s death.. No longer called Camposanto, which means “graveyard” in Spanish, it became Paradiso. And the tribe was no longer labeled “Calabazas.” The U.S. government and the villagers signed a treaty, which allowed them to retain their lands. The story closes in a South American village. The final chapter includes: “From the bottom shelf of the table, El Maestro takes out a battered violin similar to the one he played long ago. He picks up a bow. Then he begins to play a squeaking tune, off-key at first, then stronger. ‘Believe in Beethoven,’ he says. When people look again, El Maestro’s chair is empty.” Has Soledad returned as El Maestro? Nancy Wood lives in Santa Fe. She is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature award and a Frank Waters Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the author of numerous prose, poetry and children’s fiction books.