Judge’s Comments for Fiction

The three finalists in the PEN-Texas awards fiction category, A Daughter’s a Daughter, by Nash Candelaria; Flight of Souls, by David E. Stuart; and Angel of Vilcacamba, also by David E. Stuart, all partake of the rich heritage of the American Southwest and South America. A Daughter’s a Daughter follows three generations of women in a New Mexican family as they repeat the repressed lives of their mothers and the dictates of the all-powerful church, believing that in obedience there is salvation. Finally, the daughter of the third generation rebels against the oppressive gender roles that have hobbled her mother and grandmother and unveils the shocking secret that haunts her legacy.

Flight of Souls tells the story of John Alexander, a victim of neglect and abuse, who tries to start a new life in 1960s Mexico studying folklore and anthropology. A tale of the conflict between the lure of the modern lifestyle of the cities and the superstition-laden life of the villages, this novel also spells out the devastating effects of the interference of the U.S. government in the affairs of its southern neighbors, fixating especially on Cuba. Forced to flee when he is caught up in a sensational murder, he takes refuge in communities steeped in Aztec traditions.

Following the continuing adventures of John Alexander, Angel of Vilcacamba tells the story of the human rights investigator as he traverses the difficult landscapes of Latin America, accompanied by his 12-year-old ward, Andalucia. Kidnapped, then rescued, in the mountains of Peru, Andalucia has taken on almost supernatural powers when she kills her kidnapper and killer of her mother and snatches the cross he wears around his neck. Thus challenged, the powerful clan of the slain Ecuadorian general vows revenge and pursues John Alexander and Andy as they flee to safety. Part thriller, part psychological adventure, this novel successfully combines myth and adventure, complex characters and suspense, in a manner that blends genre fiction and literary fiction.

The third novel by David E. Stuart, renowned anthropologist based at the University of New Mexico, Angel of Vilcacamba draws upon its author’s rich experience and field work and vivid imagination and fictive talent. It is the winner of the 2009 award for fiction.

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