Review by Diane Donovan
Saints and Skeletons: A Memoir of Living in Mexico presents the foundations of Ana Manwaring's JadeAnne Stone thriller series, but holds the potential to reach both these readers and newcomers who may hold little familiarity with Manwaring's works.
This vivid memoir of her travels through Mexico and Central America, which began in the summer of 1991, traverses other cultures, capturing the rich flavors of foods, romance, and adventure as armchair readers follow in her footsteps.
More so than almost any other travelogue about Mexican experience, the nation comes to life as readers walk the gritty roads of countries steeped in the cultures and flavors of non-Western influences:
"Doña Carmen, our instructor, marched us to the central market. It was a mole experience. There were vats of mole, tubs of mole, mountains of mole. Mole verde, mole rojo, the famed Oaxacan mole negro and mole of every color in between. Each stall crowded into the huge market building brimmed with mole. Mole, spicy and chocolaty, pervaded the air with its fragrance. It blended with the meat smells of the butchers’ corridor, mingled with the sweet ripe smells of fruit and the pungent herbaceous odors of vegetables in the greengrocers’ section. The scent of hot bread and tortillas baking melded with the mole, becoming an almost palatable smell. Our every breath was wrapped in mole. It settled over the household goods and wafted through the clothing aisles, spilling out the many doorways, down the narrow sidewalks, and into the dusty exhaust-choked streets of the city."
From winding (and often uncertain) travels through the mountains of Michoacán to budding romances and relationships, the evocative flavors of Manwaring's life are compellingly, vividly portrayed:
"I liked meeting new people too, but not hot chicks with mota. I was a decade older, starting to pooch out, or I felt like I was getting fat, and I didn’t feel up to par. No way I could compete with pretty, fluent Spanish speakers for Fernando’s attention. And I wanted it all. The bad angel on my shoulder whispered, “You’re paying for it all.” I maimed the cilantro and started toasting the quesadillas."
The resulting "you are here" exploration is exceptionally enlightening in its revelations, encounters, and experiences, whether they be cultural misunderstandings or expressions of enlightenment:
"I failed to look up discutir because I was certain it meant “to discuss.” Why wouldn’t he want to discuss a path forward? The irony is, I didn’t learn the meaning of the word—argue—until I started writing this book."
Libraries and readers interested in a travelogue that explores relationships, food, and cultural perceptions, injecting adventure into every moment, will find Saints and Skeletons outstanding in its presentation, revelations, and attractions.