Shaman’s Cannonball Read #CBR5 review #24: Señor Peregrino by Cecilia Samartin

A colleague lent me this book. It’s important to write that, because it’s not the kind of book I would have otherwise chosen to read. But, for me, the Cannonball Read has been an opportunity to try new genres. Broaden my literary horizons, so to speak.

Señor Peregrino is the story of Jamilet, a young Mexican woman carrying a secret. She was born with a birthmark over almost half her body, from her neck down to her knees. Jamilet is convinced that American doctors can perform miracles and remove the birthmark, so she takes herself over the border illegally and makes it to Los Angeles. There, she moves in with her aunt and soon enough she finds a job at a mental hospital, taking care of an older man (the titular Señor Peregrino) who refuses to leave his room. After a while, he starts telling her his story.

It’s a common plot device. The archetypal old man tells a story so deep that it makes his captive audience go through a personal transformation. I kept trying to remember what film or what book it reminded me of. There’s probably loads of them out there. As I turned the pages, I waited for some transformation to happen, something to explain what message this book was trying to convey, some pearls of wisdom. Unfortunately, unless I completely missed the point, this aha-moment never came.

Jamilet is an interesting character, at least to begin with. The burden she carries should be an excellent tool in the hands of the writer, her plight a chance for personal development and perhaps for rising above all fixation with appearances. Instead, we’re led onto a different path, that of Señor Peregrino, and his fixation with beauty, with just a dash of desperate love. I found myself confused. I felt like there was supposed to be a meaning with the telling of his story, but the book read more like two separate stories that were only connected by a tentative professional relationship between Jamilet and Señor Peregrino. The word ”miracle” appears often, so perhaps we’re meant to think that a miracle has occurred by the end of the novel, yet it is an underwhelming miracle, the personal transformation almost non-existent.

Señor Peregrino was not a bad book. It just left me wishing it had packed more of a punch.

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