Review: Lost in Oaxaca, by Jessica Winters Mireles

About the book, Lost in Oaxaca

 

  • Print Length: 328 pages
  • Publisher: She Writes Press (April 21, 2020)
  • Publication Date: April 21, 2020

Lost in OaxacaOnce a promising young concert pianist, Camille Childs retreated to her mother’s Santa Barbara estate after an injury to her hand destroyed her hopes for a musical career. She now leads a solitary life teaching piano, and she has a star student: Graciela, the daughter of her mother’s Mexican housekeeper. Camille has been grooming the young Graciela for the career that she herself lost out on, and now Graciela, newly turned eighteen, has just won the grand prize in a piano competition, which means she gets to perform with the LA Philharmonic. Camille is ecstatic; if she can’t play herself, at least as Graciela’s teacher, she will finally get the recognition she deserves.

But there are only two weeks left before the concert, and Graciela has disappeared—gone back to her family’s village in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. Desperate to bring Graciela back in time for the concert, Camille goes after her, but on the way there, a bus accident leaves her without any of her possessions. Alone and unable to speak the language, Camille is befriended by Alejandro, a Zapotec man who lives in LA but is from the same village as Graciela. Despite a contentious first meeting, Alejandro helps Camille navigate the rugged terrain and unfamiliar culture of Oaxaca, allowing her the opportunity to view the world in a different light—and perhaps find love in the process.

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About the author, Jessica Winters Mireles

Jessica Winters MirelesBorn and raised in Santa Barbara, California, Jessica Winters Mireles holds a degree in piano performance from USC. After graduating, she began her career as a piano teacher and performer. Four children and a studio of over forty piano students later, Jessica’s life changed drastically when her youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two; she soon decided that life was too short to give up on her dreams of becoming a writer, and after five years of carving out some time each day from her busy schedule, she finished Lost in Oaxaca. She also knows quite a bit about Oaxaca, as her husband is an indigenous Zapotec man from the highlands of Oaxaca and is a great source of inspiration. She lives with her husband and family in Santa Barbara, California.

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My Thoughts

MissMelissIn Lost in Oaxaca, author Jessica Winters Mireles gives us a story that mixes romance, adventure, and an exploration of the human condition with just enough suspense to keep things interesting. More, she weaves these components into a seamless whole and a compelling story.

We initially meet our protagonist, Camille, on a bus in Mexico, but just after our initial meeting, we are treated to the first of many flashbacks exploring her earlier life. This method of telling a story from both ends and the same time is not new, but in Mireles’s hands it doesn’t feel anything but organic.

Mireles is particularly adept at both giving us the essence of a character with comparatively little backstory  – we get a sense of who Alejandro is from his very first appearance, for example – and writing truthful dialogue. While I’ve never been to Oaxaca, I’ve spent an extensive amount of time in  Baja Sur, on the Pacific side of Mexico, and I really appreciated the way Spanish words and phrases were used to lend authenticity to the characters, without ever seeming like the author was either pandering or creating stereotypes rather than real people.

Overall, Lost in Oaxaca is a gripping story with vivid, dimensional characters whom we care about from the first page.

Goes well with: chicken mole, blue corn tortillas and Bohemia beer.

 

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Review: Lost in Oaxaca, by Jessica Winters Mireles by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.