As her beloved lays sick and dying, Anna recounts vivid details of her life leading up to this moment. From her childhood in El Salvador, to her struggles and travels to the United States first living in a convent, then eventually becoming a nanny for a wealthy southern California family.
Although the synopsis seems really simple, the book itself is not. Cecila Samartin does a fantastic job of weaving together the past with the present of Anna’s life with key overlapping elements. She uses 1st and 3rd person perspective when discussing Anna’s childhood and her life as an adult at the bedside of her love. We learn about Anna’s past, the massacre of her family by renegades in El Salvador, her salvation into the United States and her education and eventual desire to be a nun through snippets of memories and thoughts.
Religion plays a central role in this book, although it didn’t feel like a typical Christian Lit that I have read before. Although Religion is at the heart of Anna’s life and is what grounds her, neither the book nor Anna ever felt preachy. In religion, Anna finds peace and calm, whereas the rest of her life has been filled with violence and fears. Sent to work as a nanny for the Trellis family by the mother superior, Anna is then embraced into a world completely different from one that she’s ever known. She sees the faults in others, but is patient and accepting, reserving judgment and also quick on her feet in difficult situations.
Towards the end of the book, I would have thought that Anna’s utter selflessness would have annoyed me, but it was more of everyone else’s selfishness that bothered me instead. I admired Anna’s character. She never seemed preachy, either through her actions or words. Anna was well loved by the family she worked for, but those family members were riddled with faults, greed, lies and deception. The juxtaposition between the two worlds was very stark. Both sides were filled tragic loss and regrets, but there was a clear difference in how Anna saw the world and how the Trellis family saw the world. She is sent there to look after Teddy, the wild and spoiled son of Adam and Lillian Trellis. Gifted with an ability to interact with children, Teddy quickly learns to listen and follow Anna’s lead as he grows up. As Lillian’s scandalous affairs and priorities outside of the house take her away from her children and husband, Anna fits easily into the cog of a functional family. Lillian is an interesting character, maybe bi-polar?
I found the eventual romance that developed between Anna and her beloved to not feel all that realistic. I think because through so much of the book Anna was Mr. Trellis’ employee and friend, I never pictured him seeing her as a love interest, although that was the obvious next step. Also, I’m not sure if its my lack of knowledge of El Salvador’s political past, but I had no idea what era the story took place. Even when Anna came to the US, I was still a little confused if this was modern day, or farther in the past. This is still a fantastic read, one that you won’t be able to put down after you start reading.Vigil Cecila Samartin Washington Square Press, 2009 ISBN 1416549528 452 pages