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The Amado Women

Shelf Awareness for Readers
A finely rendered story of a multigenerational Latina family overcoming individual setbacks and tragedies.
The women of the Amado family are tough. Disparate as their lives are, when trouble comes to any one of them, the others circle the wagons. "Don't Mess with the Amado Women" might make a more descriptive title for Désirée Zamorano's novel about three generations of a Southern Californian Latina family. Grade-school teacher and matriarch Mercy was left with three toddler daughters and a bucketful of credit-card debt when her alcoholic, philandering husband abandoned her. Now in her 60s, she still frets over her grown daughters. Divorced Celeste runs a successful financial-investment firm. Sylvia has her own daughters, a spendthrift Anglo husband and a big house in Pasadena. Unmarried Nataly, the free spirit, waits tables to pay the rent, has many sexual liaisons and makes textile art on her hand loom.



Zamorano, director of Occidental College's Community Literacy Center, eschews the stereotypical storyline of long-suffering Latina women keeping house for the rich. Instead, her protagonists are middle-class women with contemporary problems developing in the years straddling the turn of the 21st century. Celeste's business takes a hit as her clients retreat from the stock market. Sylvia's husband loses his job and runs off on a sexual adventure with another man just as their youngest daughter develops a serious medical issue. Nataly's potential big gallery break in New York vanishes with the city's post-9/11 paralysis. Yet amid all this, Mercy shares her stoic optimism with Celeste: "You lose your little girl every day... the one little girl you thought you knew and loved is replaced by another one. A little older, a little smarter, a little more independent." Life goes on, especially when one has a family of strong women for support.
- Bruce Jacobs, July 8, 2014  Visit Website
Dagoberto Gilb, author of Before The End, After The Beginning
"Far from the cholos and maids of a cliché Latino Los Angeles, these beautiful Amado women dine at chichi hotels and restaurants, carry plush designer bags, and steer new cars into suburbias. But Zamorano doesn’t leave it at that--because even an American dream-fulfilled life is still full of real life, and what alone endures is family."
- January 15, 2014 
Mark Childress, author of Crazy in Alabama and Georgia Bottoms
Désirée Zamorano’s first novel explores a world of Latinas that belongs to her alone. Such originality predicts a notable career in the world of fiction. The author’s voice is true, and her stories feel real.
Stephanie Elizondo Griest, author of 100 Places Every Woman Should Go
"What's it like reading Zamorano's debut novel? Take three wildly divergent sisters, a worrying mother, and an electrifying city. Blend in the heartache of marriage and an arsenal of secrets. Serve to all your comadres with a jalapeño twist."
- May 12, 2014 
Hometown Pasadena
“From its shocking opening to its dream-like ending, Désirée Zamorano’s The Amado Women dishes out secrets, lies, and hurts as fast as we can gobble them up.”
"From its shocking opening to its dream-like ending, Désirée Zamorano’s The Amado Women dishes out secrets, lies, and hurts as fast as we can gobble them up.

Mercy, the family matriarch, rules over her three daughters not with an iron hand but with a constant hope that they’ll find happiness. Mercy’s secrets are old ones. They can’t help but bubble up when crisis arrives. And crisis arrives over and over again.

In fact, so many crises occur in The Amado Women that almost anything I can say is a spoiler. I can tell you it’s clear early on that the oldest daughter, Celeste, and her youngest sister, Nataly, are barely speaking to each other. I could even tell you why, but why ruin your fun? What’s more interesting is that this deep rift is settled before the biggest crisis comes, and that may surprise you because so many crises pop up before this one is settled. This means high point after high point, accompanied by the reader’s gasp. I picture Zamorano at her desk, saying to herself, 'Okay, how can I make things worse for this character?'

Celeste is smart, stylish, and good with money, but won’t let a man into her life. Nataly lets the wrong man into her life, and can’t seem to get her career moving. Sylvia, the middle sister, is a mother and a peacemaker, the latter of which sometimes serves her and sometimes doesn’t.

Don’t let the title mislead you. The Amado women have men in their lives, all interesting characters who take the story to new levels whenever they’re on the page. Celeste moves to a new office and finds lasting friendship there. Nataly’s wrong man shows up at the wrong time. Mercy’s ex, the father of her daughters and a sweet, sad louse, is inappropriate at best, incredibly selfish at worst. And every time Sylvia’s unpredictable husband Jack appears on the scene, the temperature of the story shoots higher.

Oh—and I almost forgot to mention, these women are Latinas.

I once knew a woman whose last name was Amado. She lived in a fancy high rise on West Wilshire Blvd. I did office work for her, work she was entirely capable of doing herself, but because she could afford to pay an assistant, she did. That was many years ago and there are many sophisticated Latinas like her, yet Latinas are still portrayed in the media as maids and hookers. Zamorano’s Amado Women are individuals. Don’t you dare stereotype these Latinas 'fiery.'

The Amado women are family first. They are women next. They are Latinas, too, and this is part of the story but it’s not the story. These are the women on my block (well, maybe they live on a fancier block), they’re the women in my community, they’re my friends. And although their heritage matters, what matters most to them is each other."
- Petrea Burchard, July 22, 2014  Visit Website
Los Angeles Review of Books
“This is spot-on writing from Zamorano...The Amado Women is an important work because its women, like many others, pay a price for leaving home and seeking their versions of success ... But daughters do return, and at its conclusion the novel seems to suggest that we will eventually find that we value and embrace every part of ourselves more than before we first left.”
Visibility and Invisibility: Vickie Vértiz Investigates the Middle-Class Latinas of Désirée Zamorano’s “The Amado Women”

Vickie Vértiz on The Amado Women

In Désirée Zamorano’s The Amado Women, the family matriarch Mercy talks to her grieving daughter about losing children:

People don’t talk about this, but you lose your little girls every day. Every single day she goes away. And the one little girl you thought you knew and loved is replaced by another one. A little older, a little smarter, a little more independent. Finally the one you had fallen completely in love with is all gone.

Mercy is describing losing her own young girls to adulthood, education, relationships, and careers, but this advice also underpins one of the themes of the novel: the costs of transformation. As things fall apart for them, each of the four Amado women grapple with Mercy’s wisdom.

Zamorano’s debut novel, The Amado Women, is a family story spanning four generations centered around Mercy, a daughter of working-class Mexican immigrants. Mercy’s existence is summed up in her maiden name — Mercedes Fuerte — “strong mercies” in Spanish. She and her daughters share a deep drive to push past the economic and gendered limitations that challenge them, and both the novel and its characters are accordingly obsessed with class status.
We follow Mercy and her three daughters, Celeste, Sylvia, and Nataly, through their lives as serious crises occur. The novel begins when a large sum of money goes missing and Jack, Sylvia’s abusive husband, beats her and her daughter Becky in the family kitchen. From there, the fate of Sylvia and her two daughters’ hangs in the balance.

Each chapter is split between the four women’s perspectives, switching between past and present, rural and urban California settings, but not consistently, so a single point of view occasionally takes up an entire chapter. The intertwined voices create a momentum driven by mysteries and cliffhangers that kept me reading.

We see Mercy’s transformation as she goes from being a stay-at-home mother to babysitter to a community college graduate in Compton, eventually becoming a 60-year-old glamorous divorcée with violet-colored contact lenses. Celeste goes from being an Ivy League-bound high-achiever to the victim of a failed marriage, which she compensates for by becoming a successful financial planner, albeit one with secret troubles. Sylvia is a Comp Lit major and Russian poetry lover who marries a man with too many secrets — echoes of her father — and just as much money, whereas Nataly, the youngest, is a CalArts grad who makes textile art but pours considerable energy into a clandestine love affair that also makes her feel like her two-timing father, Edgar Amado.

The Amado women work hard for their careers and value the goods that come with that success: expensive clothes and jewelry, real estate, art patrons, and rich husbands. The narrator name-drops as many brands as possible to convey the women’s investment in material wealth. But while money doesn’t solve all of their problems, their lack of money in the past accounts for their drive.

This insight is offered when Mercy finds her mother’s quilt in Sylvia’s closet and flashes back to childhood. The memory’s setting is spare but striking: a windy home in rural Lompoc, flour tortillas warming on a griddle, and eight-year-old Mercy alone with baby brother Joel, who is developmentally disabled. We begin to understand the root of the Amado women’s middle-class aspirations in a scene where Mercy and her older sister Lydia watch dancing couples at a church. While Mercy admires the women who “[are] so beautiful, the soldiers so thrilling,” 10-year-old Lydia disagrees:

They’re just a bunch of nobodies from nowhere, like us. […] When I get out of here I’m going to dance with somebodies. […] When I grow up, I’m gonna buy everything from the store. Brand new. Everything.

It’s easy to see why Mercy and her daughters aspire greatly to comfort and discard parts of their working-class roots — to them, it is something to be ashamed of. It is a heartbreaking move that explains the characters’ constant focus on material wealth and unending concern with how they are perceived.

According to various interviews Zamorano has given for her book, she wrote this novel with one main drive: to dispel stereotypes about Latinas in the United States. In Publishers Weekly she said that her characters are not the cholos and housekeepers mainstream media outlets portray when they cast Latinos. Instead she set out to write about women who “are professionals: a teacher, a financial adviser, and an artist.” She points to this as the curse of the “invisible Latina” in entertainment and media coverage of Latinos in the United States.

I want to dig into Zamorano’s claim and explore several questions it brings up. First, Latinos are the majority in many US cities, and in everyday life we see each other in all of our incarnations: artists, intellectuals, professors, urban planners, shop owners, designers, and so on. Car manufacturers, banks, and other multinational corporations have figured out that middle-class Latinos exist and have money to spend. So the gaze under which Latinos are “invisible” to Zamorano is Hollywood and mainstream media. It is true that mainstream films and television shows are largely created by and represent Anglo, heteronormative, and upper-class people.
While the publishing world also suffers from the same blindness as Hollywood, it happens to a different degree; Latino writers have definitely left a great impression in that medium. If we recalibrate our filters to the point of view of Los Angeles Latinos writing in the US, middle-class stories from our community have been told by writers like Helena Maria Viramontes, Héctor Tobar, Felicia Luna Lemus, Daniel Olivas, and Michael Jaime-Becerra — to much acclaim and award, and that’s just in the last 20 years. Of course, literature written by Latinos greatly needs to be more widely published, but are middle-class Latinos really that invisible in literature?

The Amado Women accomplishes what it set out to do; it creates Latina characters in a middle-class context who created their own paths to education and wealth, but at times it felt as though Zamorano was participating in forms of erasure herself.

I also hoped to read strong Latino characters in the novel. The sole male character with any lengthy page time is Edgar Amado, Mercy’s ex-husband and father to her three daughters, and he’s a sorry, alcoholic philanderer who spends all of his family’s money, then, to boot, shows up married to a blonde half his age at a funeral. Of course, in real life, this happens with many men (don’t get me started), but it is a curious character selection considering the author is working to debunk stereotypes about Latinos.

Another character of note is Southern California itself, specifically Los Angeles and Orange County. The book gives us a handful of views of downtown, of the 5 freeway, but prefers sparkling glimpses of ocean from the Ritz, and shoddily built but pricey Pasadena homes. Working-class California, on the other hand, gets short shrift.

Zamorano was born in Lynwood and I was raised in Bell Gardens, two areas of LA you do not read about unless we’re the ones writing about them. But throughout the novel, Zamorano only depicts Compton as a lower socioeconomic neighborhood since most of what is mentioned paints a hardscrabble life for the Amado family.

Nataly, the artist of the family, drives on the 5 toward Santa Ana, where her mother lives, and calls the freeway “[…] the ugliest highway in southern California. Past the dying factories, the industrial areas zoned for smog, noise and waste.” Whereas in Lompoc, Lydia only saw nobodies dancing at the church, and mainstream film and television depict working-class Latinos mostly through negative stereotypes, Nataly is erasing working-class Latinos from her landscape, focusing instead on the smog and waste. In fact, Nataly is driving past thousands of people who are too busy working to name-drop Tiffany’s and Burberry, too busy building the condos the Amado women live in to be concerned with how someone like Nataly sees them.

This is spot-on writing from Zamorano, illustrating how class aspirations can erase our humanity or ability to connect with others, and demonstrating some of the pitfalls of middle-class existence. But there is no awareness in Nataly that she has internalized the “worthlessness” of working-class Latinos; she simply drives on. How can we push concepts of representation further, adding value without subtracting value from someone else?

Ultimately, the characters in the novel are constantly negotiating with loss, that of jobs, loved ones, or the possibilities for love at any age. Like so many other characters in literature, they’re just trying to get home; a home where Sylvia and her girls are safe from physical abuse, a home where Nataly and Celeste get along and solve their painful rift. It takes a tragedy near the book’s end to bring the women face to face with what’s really important — each other.

Mercy is right when she tells Celeste that losing daughters happens every day: “You see, […] they go away, they disappear, but you wait long enough and they come back.” The Amado Women is an important work because its women, like many others, pay a price for leaving home and seeking their versions of success — leaving Lompoc or community colleges in Compton to arrive at tea service at the Ritz. But daughters do return, and at its conclusion the novel seems to suggest that we will eventually find that we value and embrace every part of ourselves more than before we first left.

Vickie Vértiz is a poet and writer based in Los Angeles.
- Vickie Vértiz, December 10, 2014  Visit Website
Los Angeles Review of Books
“The Amado Women (Cinco Puntos Press), unlike narratives centered on undocumented immigrants struggling to make it in the ‘land of opportunity,’ focuses on upwardly mobile, middle-class Latinas in contemporary Southern California. Her protagonists — a matriarch and her three adult daughters — are successful women, though not without the troubles many, regardless of economic status, encounter: failed marriages, family pressure to play an ‘appropriate’ role, self-doubt in one’s parenting decisions. An entertaining and important novel, The Amado Women offers a valid, realistic depiction of a group of Latinas largely ignored in US literature.”
- Daniel A. Olivas, August 21, 2014  Visit Website
Latina Book Club
“Stunning, original, beautiful, mesmerizing… It’s a fast paced, emotionally-packed tale that will captivate readers from the start.”
Stunning, original, beautiful, mesmerizing.

I love that this novel is about gutsy Latina women, and better yet, gutsy Latina sisters. They fight and argue like sisters will do, but pick on one and you are facing all three! And that fire, that passion is what makes Zamorano's debut novel such a success.

THE AMADO WOMEN is all about family and sisterhood. It's full of hopes and dreams, despair and triumph. It's a fast-paced, emotionally-packed tale that will captivate readers from the start. It did me.

SUMMARY: Mercy Amado was married to a lazy bum who drank away his paycheck. She got smart, went to school and became a teacher. She divorced her husband and raised her girls to be strong, independent Latina women. But children never turn out exactly as parents plan. Celeste, the oldest, is obsessed with her career and becoming estranged from the family. Sylvia, the middle child, is married with two children and hiding a painful secret. Nataly, the baby, is an artist who can never finish what she starts. Time and distance separate the sisters, but when tragedy strikes, these women will band together out of love and will fight to protect their own.


ABOUTH THE AUTHOR: Désirée Zamorano is a playwright, Pushcart Prize nominee for fiction, and the director of the Community Literacy Center at Occidental College. She also collaborates with InsideOut Writers, a program that works with formerly incarcerated youth. She lives in Pasadena, CA. Visit her at www.desireezamorano.com.
- September 15, 2014  Visit Website
Library Journal
"Zamorano says she wanted to portray the life of "the invisible Latina," but this novel will appeal to … readers of any ethnic background who enjoy a fast-paced story with lots of family drama and strong characters who overcome bad relationships and the other adversities life hands them."
This debut novel begins with Sylvia, an attractive mother of two living in a wealthy Southern California suburb, being beaten up by her jerk of a husband. Sylvia's mother, Mercedes (called Mercy), is a stylish, divorced woman of 60 whose ex-husband is a lying, cheating, hard-drinking loser, and each of her three grown daughters has problems as well. (Likable men in this novel are few and far between.) Youngest daughter Nataly is a free-spirited artist who at 32 still acts like a teenager and has a thing for bad boys. Now middle-aged, Celeste is a successful financial manager but has unresolved issues. And poor Sylvia. Will she be able to break free of her viciously abusive husband and save herself and her children? As readers will see, there are further problems in store for this troubled family. VERDICT Zamorano says she wanted to portray the life of "the invisible Latina," but this novel will appeal to female readers of any ethnic background who enjoy a fast-paced story with lots of family drama and strong characters who overcome bad relationships and the other adversities life hands them.—Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA
- Leslie Patterson, September 1, 2014  Visit Website
Chicago Literati
Zamorano set out to write Latinas who broke out of stereotypical media caricatures, and in this, she succeeded… The novel’s domestic struggles hold the reader in a constant state of suspense, and the character’s actions seem at once unpredictable and inevitable.
:The Amado Women by Désirée Zamorano focuses on Mercedes Amado and her three daughters struggling with the complicated nature of the American Dream. Though all of the Amado women have achieved some version of this dream, Zamorano brings the reality of their lives into focus—a reality that is much less idyllic, but far more interesting.

The greatest strength of The Amado Women is in the complex portrayal of Latinas: Celeste, the pragmatic and money savvy daughter with a tumultuous inner life; Sylvia, the devoted mother of two and mediator between her sisters, who struggles for independence; Nataly, the free-spirited artist who is still very much coming of age; and Mercedes, the matriarch trying to hold her family together. Zamorano’s characters are a far cry from common tropes.

Zamorano’s background as a mystery writer also serves the story. The novel’s domestic struggles hold the reader in a constant state of suspense, and the character’s actions seem at once unpredictable and inevitable.

At times, the dialogue falls flat. The Amado sisters occasionally sound less human than one would expect, and come across like stiff archetypes. However, as the novel progresses, the world of the Amado women becomes more complex. The sisters develop past their archetypes, and Los Angeles, the novel’s setting, becomes a character in and of itself.

Zamorano set out to write Latinas who broke out of stereotypical media caricatures, and in this, she succeeded. The Amado Women, at its core, is a novel about a complicated family. It’s an old story that Zamorano has given new life—not because of the ordinary problems the characters face, but because the characters navigating their ordinary world are unique.
- Cassie Sheets, September 18, 2014  Visit Website
The Rumpus
"The Amado Women is a fast-paced novel that manages the rare feat of being both entertaining and heartfelt. In Désirée Zamorano’s gifted hands, these women come alive. They are women you know, women who are immensely relatable. You understand their ever-so-human failures and you root for them to succeed. A haunting, well-crafted story from a novelist at the peak of her powers."
Désirée Zamorano’s third novel, The Amado Women, is an unflinchingly honest look at family relationships and the joys, sorrows, and ultimately unshakable love in these ties that bind. Like A Day Late and A Dollar Short and other work by the late Bebe Moore Campbell, The Amado Women fills a need for female-driven novels of substance, humor, and well-drawn family relationships. The novel opens with the 60th birthday of matriarch Mercedes Amado, known as Mercy. In attendance are her eldest daughter Celeste, who has flown into Los Angeles from her hideaway in San Jose, Mercy’s middle and only married daughter Sylvia, and Mercy’s youngest daughter Nataly. Nataly and Celeste are not speaking because of a grudge Nataly holds against Celeste, but the three daughters manage to enjoy a wonderful celebration with their mother.
Relationships are messy things, and the sisters only skim the surface when they spend time with each other and their mother. Otherwise Sylvia would have to face the truth about her seemingly perfect marriage to a man who beats her and her daughters. Nataly would have to face her irrational anger at Celeste, her stalled career, and her cycle of unavailable, toxic men. And Celeste would have to acknowledge that she has shut down in the cold, emotionless world of her job ever since the death of her firstborn daughter over a decade ago.
Unable to move forward, the Amado girls flounder. And their mother wonders what it was she did that keeps them from living their lives to the fullest. Sylvia reaches out tentatively to Celeste for help, but then sinks her head back in the sand. Nataly runs away from the chance to have her first art show in New York and takes up with a married man instead. And Celeste rejects yet another man’s interest, burying herself deeper in her work. When Sylvia’s youngest daughter is hospitalized for a serious illness, the sisters have another chance to reconnect, but they botch it. “‘Fuck you and your attitude and your money,’” Nataly cries, ending her tirade against Celeste, minutes before they are to enter the hospital room. When Nataly appears alone, Sylvia asks, “‘Where’s the rest of you?’” “‘We got into a fight on the way down,’” says Nataly. Sylvia replies, “‘Well, that’s progress… I didn’t know you two talked enough to argue.’” This exchange is vintage Zamorano, lightening an intense moment—a sick child, a hospital—with a beat of laughter to give the reader air.
But when Sylvia finally gains the courage to leave her husband, her actions set off a chain of events that force each of the Amado women to admit the broken parts of themselves and begin to heal.
While the Amado women are impressive, the men in the novel do not show up so well. Both Papa Amado and Jack Levine, Sylvia’s husband, cheat on their wives, beat their wives, steal money from their wives, and consume way too many addictive substances. Nataly’s latest love interest is a cheater as well. In a way, that is the point—that the cycle of abuse set in place by the previous generation must be broken by the daughters. “‘Let’s say Jack slapped Sylvia around… they wouldn’t have been the first married couple,’” says Mercy, reflecting on her own marriage.
Set in the diverse, yet racially segregated world of Los Angeles, the novel manages to use the city organically as a powerful character while showcasing the various lives that are lived there. In a drive of less than 30 minutes, you can experience completely different languages, faiths, economics, and realities. Moving between spaces becomes a larger theme in the novel, as each of the Amado women seeks the courage to—literally—propel herself from one stage of her life to the next.
The Amado Women is a fast-paced novel that manages the rare feat of being both entertaining and heartfelt. In Désirée Zamorano’s gifted hands, these women come alive. They are women you know, women who are immensely relatable. You understand their ever-so-human failures and you root for them to succeed. A haunting, well-crafted story from a novelist at the peak of her powers.
- Hope Wabuke, October 16, 2014  Visit Website

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