“The Sisterhood,” by Helen Bryan, Amazon Publishing, 402 pages, $14.95.
Adopted by Americans as an infant on the Pacific Coast of South America (probably Peru), Menina Walker grew to womanhood in Georgia.
Her interest in art history took her to Spain, but she was robbed of most of her possessions on the way to Madrid and ended up in an Andalusian Convent, Las Golondrinas (The Swallows), befriended by nuns.
There she discovered ancient framed pictures, some undoubtedly related to an engraved medal and a handwritten chronicle that came into her possession. Her interest piqued, she remained to investigate and met Alejandro, the local head of police, and of course, a handsome, dashing fellow.
The story meanders back and forth between 16th century Spain, the Convent of Las Sors Santas de Jesus (The Holy Sisters of Jesus) at Las Golondrinas and early 21st century Spain in the same extraordinarily preserved convent.
As Menina goes about trying to connect the paintings by Tristin Mendoza with the medallion and chronicle, the reader meets one after another young woman (hence the title) who comes to the convent for aid and succor.
Esperanza is the scribe, and much of the book is by her hand. She records the stories behind the coming of the orphan girls Luz, Pia, Sanchia and Marisol to Las Golondrinas.
But then The Inquisition announces that it will inspect the convent for heresy, and the Mother Superior sends the five girls away on a sailing ship, lest it be discovered that Mother has tolerated Muslim and Jewish girls in her entourage.
After harrowing weeks at sea, they finally sail through the Gulf of Mexico to the western shore of South America where they land and make a life. The Inquisitors come and go and find nothing to criticize.
Time passes, and the girls have grown into women, married and given birth to many babies. Esperanza records all in the chronicle, now being read and finally understood by Menina, more than 400 years later.
After being mistreated by her beau, Theo, in Georgia, Menina is apprehensive of men and eschews a new relationship. But Alejandro is persistent and attractive and … you know.
Helen Bryan is an excellent storyteller, and the tale never falters or drags. We are enchanted by the people she introduces to us and cannot get enough of the details of their lives.
Most impressive is the easy flow of language and, ultimately, the logic of the outcome as we find out what happens to the nuns, the girls, Theo and Alejandro, Esperanza, Mendoza, the pictures, the medallion, the chronicle and all.
Melvyn Schreiber is a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Melvyn Schreiber’s essays are now available as a paperback book (without the book reviews and opera reviews). If you want one, send $15 to him at 12 E. Dansby, Galveston, TX 77551, and he will mail a copy to you. It’s not heavy enough to press your trousers with, but it may please you in other ways.