Click here to read reviewer Amanda Cuda's take on The Dark Bride.
"To prosper in the pursuit of survival," the middle-aged but still-beautiful Todos los Santos takes a wild young girl under her wings, preparing her to perform under the multi-colored lights of La Catunga, the shabby town that transforms itself under a shining moon when young women of various nationalities sell their favors to the men who work for American-owned Tropical Oil Company in Columbia. The young woman will eventually be known as Sayonara, and men will tremble with adoration at her rare combination of helplessness and arrogance.
The barrio where these women eke out their bare existence is the only means of survival in a poverty-riddled country, their mission in life to create a small world of comfort for the petroleros returning in the evenings with a few coins in their pockets to spend on the pleasures of a woman. These are businesswomen who sell their bodies, rarely their hearts: "from the waist up is the soul, from the wait down is business." For the few who lose themselves in the arms of a man, only heartbreak awaits.
Columbia is known as the Country of the Sacred Heart, the language peppered with references to an assortment of saints, the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart; regardless of the lives they lead, religion is wound tightly into a culture that must endure much and suffer greatly. Religion is hope, the promise of a better life after death.
This is an impossible love story in a place where love is forbidden. The author narrates as a reporter seeking to separate truth from rumor, delving into the history of the legendary Sayonara from those who know her best: the old woman who trains her for success in the life, the cart driver who craves her obsessively but is unable to sort the girl of the day from the woman of the night and the petrolero who loves her but has a past he cannot escape.
The novel is overflowing with memories, some truthful, some wishful, all contributing to the mystery of Sayonara, a creature of myth to the women of the village. Her power is their power in a world where simple survival exacts a heavy price. An incredibly lush jungle surrounds the most insidious poverty, juxtaposing the harsh realities of Columbia, where beauty coexists with despair and all is wrapped in the vague mysticism of religious beliefs.
Restrepo’s perspective is both unique and adventurous, drawing the reader into the small village of waiting women as she unearths the truth of their existence in the dark of night, where fate rules with an unforgiving mien, but prayers of the faithful fill the skies on their way to a watching God.