Five Star, Jan 2003, 26.95, 200 pp.
In 1980s Houston, Texas, sixteen-year-old Viola marries a Peruvian greencard seeker nicknamed El Rey. They live in deplorable conditions when she gives birth to his son. Unable to cope with the deteriorating situation that she only wants to improve, Viola moves out with plans to divorce him, raise her son alone, and attend college. However, El Rey harasses Viola sending Child Welfare to inspect her and making calls to upset her. He consistently breaks into her apartment, but the police cannot help her with his stalking because she remains married to him.
El Rey rejects divorce so he abducts their son, taking the lad back to Lima in order to punish his misbehaving wife. Viola follows and even sees her frightened son in a government office, but cannot reach out to comfort him and is warned by a politician to leave now or disappear in the jungle forever. Knowing she needs a plan, Viola reluctantly returns to Texas, but six months later is back with a ploy to rescue her son or die in the attempt.
DYING IN THE CITY OF FLOWERS is a gritty first person fictionalized account of a true story. By having the heroine narrate the tale, readers see deep into the soul of Viola while also observing her maturing. This perspective also has the downside of painting El Rey and his Peruvian family and friends as uncaring villains rather than fully showcasing a culture with a different attitude. Similar to Betty Mahmoody's Not Without My Daughter, Victoria Edwards Tester provides a powerful story of a mother's courage and love.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner