Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.
Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.
One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.
The story follows Xochitl, who lives in Empalme in Central America. Since she was eight years old, she has filled the role of the “cuentista” of her village, which is sort of a sin-eater. She has the power to “take in” the villagers’ stories and, later, deliver those stories to Solís, their god. Giving their stories to a cuentista removes the burden of their transgressions, guilt, and secrets from the villagers, in essence, freeing their conscience in the process. So in taking their stories, Xochitl refreshes them, unburdens them, and cleanses them. Once Xochitl gives the story back to Solís in the desert through a ritual, she no longer remembers any of the story that was given to her, though she is utterly drained, exhausted and forgetful for quite some time afterward.
After a particularly horrendous and brutal event in her village, Xochitl decides to head out into the desert to find her true self — to try and discover her place in the world. Along the way, she encounters all sorts of unusual beings, some human, some magical.
She ends up traveling with a girl named Emilia, which may seem surprising given that Emilia is the daughter of the brutal, murderous man who terrorized Xochitl’s entire village. In the beginning, neither woman trusts the other, but they slowly warm to each other as they progress along their perilous journey.
It’s also worth mentioning that this is a post-apocalyptic story, in that the world was burned by Solís, an event referred to as La Quema. This event is considered to be Solís’s wrath/curse upon humanity. Thus, the majority of the story takes place in the desert, and the author does an excellent job of taking the reader along with our characters into this harsh environment. The setting is vivid, intense, and atmospheric, and we really get a sense of the desperation, sadness, and mistrust of the people of the various villages that were ravaged by the angry god’s fire. In this way, I found the world-building to be phenomenal.
I loved Xochitl’s character arc throughout the story as she ends up being quite a different person by the end of the book — strong, brave, and resilient. Moreover, she learns that just because a story/belief has been passed down to you, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. In the process, Xochitl discovers, in an eye-opening way, that though a belief or an idea can extend through generations and across different lands, the actuality of that idea may be different from culture to culture and from village to village. And it is this aspect of the story I found especially riveting. In this way, our main character learns that things are not always what they seem, and there may be more than one “right” way of viewing a situation, thus challenging her belief system in the process.
As Xochitl and Emilia journeyed through the desert, several different themes and lessons unfold in the story, such as freedom, the power of stories, sacrifice, responsibility, human shortcomings, the coexistence of different belief systems and destiny. I really enjoy stories centered around the idea and power of “story,” and this novel was no exception. I loved how the story focused on not just our own personal stories but how those stories fit in with the stories of our community and of our land.
Additionally, I found the prose to be utterly beautiful — ethereal and flowing. I thought that the substantial inclusion of Spanish words added to the authentic feel of this story, though it did send me running to my Spanish dictionary many times. I imagine some people may find this aspect of the book a bit off-putting as not every Spanish word’s meaning is clear from the context. So the reader may have to put in a bit of work.
The LGBTQ+ relationship in this story was such a beautiful, slow burn, and though it was by no means the main point of the story, it was satisfying and a joy to read.
All in all, I really loved this powerful story. Though I found the ending a tad abrupt, overall, Each of Us a Desert is an ambitious, unique, and at times heartbreaking novel with compelling characters and lush, gorgeous writing. This is my first Mark Oshiro novel, and I hope to read more of his work.
Each of Us a Desert will be release on September 15, 2020 though it is available now for preorder.
A huge thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a review copy of this novel.