I wanted to put this up in memoriam, but I had to find the book first. I finally did. Of Love and Other Demons isn’t one of the big ones, but it’s great nonetheless. To wit:
One morning, during a late rainstorm and under the sign of Sagittarius, Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles was born, premature and puny. She looked like a bleached tadpole, and the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck was strangling her.
“It’s a girl,” said the midwife. “But it won’t live.”
That was when Dominga de Aviento promised her saints that if they granted the girl the grace of life, her hair would not be cut until her wedding night. No sooner had she made the promise than the girl began to cry. Dominga de Adviento sang out in jubilation: “She will be a saint!” The Marquis, who saw her for the first time when she was bathed and dressed, was less prescient.
“She will be a whore,” he said. “If God gives her life and health.”
The girl, daughter of an aristocrat and a commoner, had the childhood of a fondling. Her mother hated her from the moment she nursed her for the first and only time, and the refused to keep the baby with her for fear she would kill her. Dominga de Adviento suckled her, baptized her in Christ, and consecrated her to Olokun, a Yoruban deity of indeterminate sex whose face is presumed to be so dreadful it is seen only in dreams, and always hidden by a mask. Transplanted to the courtyard of the slaves, Sierva Maria learned to dance before she could speak, learned three African languages at the same time, learned to drink rooster’s blood before breakfast and to glide past Christians unseen and unheard, like an incorporeal being. Dominga de Adviento surrounded her with a jubilant court of black slave women, mestiza maids, and Indian errand girls, who bathed her propitiatory waters, purified her with the verbena of Yemaya, and tended the torrent of hair, which fell to her waist by the time she was five, as if it were a rosebush. Over time the slave women hung the beads of various gods around her neck, until she was wearing sixtenn necklaces.
Thank you, dear Sir. Safe travels.