A Woman of Endurance by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa takes place in mid-19th century Puerto Rico and follows Pola, once named Keera, who is kidnapped from her home on the west coast of Africa and taken across the infamous middle passage. Pola/Keera grew up with a gift of being able to see ones’ soul and past via the laying on of hands. However, her gift–and her identity–disappears when she is kidnapped. After the brutality of the middle passage, Pola is taken to a sugar cane plantation in Puerto Rico where she is forced into “breeding” in that she is essentially constantly raped in order to produce more slaves for the plantation owner. Obviously Pola suffers PTSD from the constant sexual assault and having her babies ripped from her as soon as they are born.
When a girl child is taken from her, Pola commits herself to the sea, but is plucked from its waves and taken to a new plantation. It is here that Pola slowly but surely begins to find family among the people around her: Rufina the healer, Tia Josefa of needlework shop, Simon who wants only to protect her, and a young orphan girl she finds in the forest. Enslaved people often formed family and community outside of blood ties, as the selling off of human “property” tore families asunder.
The title of this novel is fitting, as Pola goes from wanting to end her life to slowly healing–not just her body, but her heart and soul, with the help of those around her. Her small circle at the cane plantation never gives up on her even when she has given up on herself. And later, she does the same for them.
It goes without saying that there are many moments in A Woman of Endurance that are hard and disturbing to read. While these horrible and horrific acts happened to enslaved people in reality, we must not turn away from hard truths. Be aware that this book carries with it a heavy trigger warning for violence and sexual assault.