I wrote the first draft of my historical novel, A Decent Woman, as a stay at home Mom in my late forties, while living in Brussels, Belgium with my husband and two children. By that time, I’d been an exhibiting artist for twenty years. A year later, my kids left for university, and I moved back to the United States as a single woman. There was no preparation for this—one day I was married and secure, financially and emotionally. The next day I was separated from my husband and had no real security, no job, and a future I couldn’t see. I immediately went to work and became a full time student while my kids worked on their own degrees. When they graduated and found good jobs, I made a life decision—I quit my job, bought a house in West Virginia, and packed my bags. When I describe that time as jumping off a cliff to save my life, I mean it; that’s what it felt like. But I knew it was the right thing to do. I had a novel to finish.
When I unpacked the manuscript I’d written several years before, I discovered that the story I’d written as a married woman no longer ‘fit me’, nor did it represent the story I needed to tell. As I looked back upon my life post-divorce and pre-publication, I realized all my wonderful, difficult, and challenging life experiences—personal and work-related—were in preparation for writing A Decent Woman; nothing I experienced was wasted.
As I rewrote the story, I filtered bits and pieces through my work experiences as counselor, social worker, refugee case worker, a staff member at a residential treatment center/school, an alternative health practitioner, and exhibiting artist. Stories told by my mother and my maternal grandmother, both born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, about their lives, and especially my grandmother’s stories about her Afro-Caribbean midwife, who caught my mother, two aunts, and my uncle, inspired the character of Ana Belén. Ana became an Afro-Cuban midwife born into slavery, who struggles to survive in male-dominated Puerto Rico. The story felt right.
It was eye-opening to compare the first manuscript with the final version, and I had an aha moment when I realized I could never have breathed the same life into Ana and the women of A Decent Woman—the women of different social classes, white and black, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, if I’d remained safe and secure in the soft cocoon of my married life. By struggling, scrimping, learning to fend for myself, I could finally understand Ana’s plight and her life, well enough to write her story.
Puerto Rican-born novelist,Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her passion for writing. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. A Decent Woman is her debut novel. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children, and she lives in West Virginia.
About the Book
Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.
Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.
Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.
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