There has never been a better time for ethnic and minority artists than the present. Due to the age of multiculturalism and political correctness, many minority and ethnic artists are receiving notice. Unfortunately, sometimes these artists receive attention based solely on their ethnic or minority status and not on the merit of their work. Kathleen Alcala does not fall into this category. Her book "The Flower in the Skull" is a strong piece of work.
"The Flower in the Skull" presents the story of three ethnic women living in different time periods. Each woman is related to the others either directly or through the common thread of sisterhood. This enables the book to bridge generation and culture gaps.
The first character introduced is Concha. She is an Opata Indian living in the later 19th century or early 1900s. Rosa is Concha's misbegotten daughter. Her voice is not as prominent as Concha's. Her purpose is more to give an outsider's view of her mother than to relate her own story.
She does provide intriguing insights into Concha. Shelly is the last character introduced. She is a contemporary woman who finds herself on assignment in Arizona. She is researching Indian tribes of North America. Shelly comes across a photo of Concha and is intrigued to know her story.
As a writer, Alcala demonstrates a powerful style as she introduces each of the main characters. Each woman maintains a different and distinct voice.
The most intriguing voice is Concha's, however. She finds herself separated from her family and thrown into unfamiliar Mexican culture. Her voice is simple, as if it is speaking a second language instead of a native tongue. Concha uses quaint terminology and has a mystical ring to her voice. Her mysticism comes from her religious upbringing, which is Opata Indian, not Western Christian.
Concha speaks in the first person until the chapter in which she is raped. By switching her writing style, it seems that Alcala is saying something about Concha's pysche without overtly vocalizing it. It is as if Concha, feeling dehumanized by the rape, has lost her identity. From that point on, Concha's voice is silent, and she is referred to in third person.
In contrast, the other two characters maintain a first-person voice. Shelly, like Concha, experiences the same violation and degradation. Unlike Concha, Shelly's voice remains strong. Shelly holds onto her voice and her identity. Her identity is also propelled by her desire to learn more about Concha's past and the probability that her own roots are Concha.
In this manner, the book completes a circle that begins with Concha and ends with Shelly's desire to learn about Concha's life.
The characters share other commonalities including a similarity in their relationships with the opposite sex. Each male character's presence is fleeting. Each woman faces most of life's burdens alone.
Though the physical male presence is minor, the male characters leave their own legacy that appears either as pyschological scars on the female characters or fond memories of an unobtainable past or a fantasy.
Because a male presence in the book is rare and often a destructive force, one is drawn to ponder the societal message presented. Need all male/female relationships be familial or destructive? The book opens an opportunity for one to evaluate one's own relationships and diagnose the health of those relationships.
The social message goes beyond mere male/female relationships. Each female character is a cultural "minority." The most unhealthy relationships are between the white male and the Mexican Indian women. One would like to think our society is at a point where we treat every individual as an equal. Sadly, even the book's most contemporary figure, Shelly, faces discrimination not only because she is female but also because she is Mexican. This is spicy food for thought.
"The Flower in the Skull" is a thought-provoking power punch of a book. Kathleen Alcala is an author well-deserving of recognition.