This is the story of “The Woman on the Golden Hind” – Maria – who finds herself in terrible situations. The themes of this book – religious differences, feminine courage and flexibility, slavery, and loyalty all contribute to the story of an unsung, largely unknown woman in history. For Maria, a young woman who has experienced so much in her relatively short life thus far, has coped with so many challenges and threats that she feels lucky to be alive, even if the concept of being “lucky” is an irony in terms of some of the grim things that have happened to her. She has had to adapt and change, find new justifications for saving her life, for not being sacrificed to appease local and ship board demands.
This is the story of a woman who writes her own story of survival. It captures much about life in the Elizabethan golden age for those who actually undertook the hard work of sailing around the world, living a precarious life on a boat with many who simply did not want to be there. This is not a tale of swaggering piracy and glittering treasure, this is the story of grinding the food that everyone else despises, sleeping in small safe spaces, inhabiting cabins with “The General” and hoping to maintain a modicum of interest to ensure survival. This is a grim and sometimes brutal story, but one that is exceptional in its subject matter and style; the story of a woman on the edge of history but who felt the effects of huge crisis. I was intrigued and fascinated by this book, and I was grateful for the opportunity to read and review it.
Despite the fact that Maria recounts her story honestly and very much from her own perspective, it is not a simple narrative. Evidently a survivor of several men’s ‘protection’, she has been bought and sold as a slave who has had to pretend to various levels of understanding. Her slight grasp on freedom has been limited by the influential men who have basically grabbed her and reduced her to a lesser being. Throughout she survives, tries to help others who have been ill used, and seeks to make sense of what she discovers. She learns enough about the two huge religious options of the time, the Spanish catholics with their strict observances, and the more biblically based Protestants who dominate the ship on which she finds herself. Rather than side too firmly with either view, it is another element of life that she must be flexible over in order to survive. The descriptions of the ship means that despite a lack of nautical knowledge, there is a vivid sense of the layout of the small but important ship.
This is an impressive book in every sense. It is dominated by the elusive but well drawn picture of Maria, as she becomes different things to different people. The other dominant character is Diego, sometime slave, devoted servant to the General, changeable, dependable, with a strong identity, as “He could be in the room he has so strongly left his mark”. This is such a powerful novel with a great impact, and it does much to redress the lack of factual evidence of Maria’s life, writing between the lines of known history. It is an exciting historical novel, and I recommend it as a very different piece of feminist history fictionalised.
I am really pleased to be the first stop on the blog tour for this amazing book. As published in Women’s History Month, this is a novel which represents an immense amount of research which never gets in the way of the story.
As many of us are not having the chance to visit bookshops at the moment, why not look up an independent bookshop on line and see if you can some books for delivery through the post? They need the business, and many authors are unable to tour or launch their books at the moment with parties and presentations, so a lot of new books are missing their initial ‘push’. Some book shops can even deliver apart from the traditional post to local addresses…