Book Rant: Review of Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes

Fatuma Hydara

I read Under the Feet of Jesus years ago while at Undergrad at Pace University Pleasantville. As Managing Editor of the Vox Arts and Literary Magazine, we often invited writers to host events and reading.

I was initiated drawn to the novel because I'd read an excerpt in an anthology called Between Worlds. From the very first line, I was struck by the unapologetic and raw portrayal of the Hispanic migrant worker. Reflecting the hardships of the migrants’ lives set against the beauty of an equally harsh landscape, Viramontes pulls readers into an entirely different world, one in which its inhabitants are caught between worlds, not truly belonging in either one. The one line that struck me the strongest was this one: “He had given this country its all, and in this land that used his bones for kindling, in this land that never once in the thirty years he lived and worked, never once said thank you…”

The novel in its entirety both lived up to and failed my initial expectations. From the excerpt I had read, I expected to be more strongly drawn into the story and lives of Estrella and her family. However, I maintained a certain distance while reading the book. I wasn't truly invested emotionally or intellectually. I was disappointed in the fact that it seemed like the very best part of the novel was the excerpt I had already read and the rest wasn't as poignant or exciting. I was disappointed by the fact that the excerpt led me to believe that Under the Feet of Jesus (love the title by the way) was more of a tragic love story.  Yet, Estrella and Alejo's relationship doesn't quite go where I would have liked it to.

At the same time, I appreciated that the rawness I had first experienced continued. Viramontes doesn't try to sugarcoat, or pull her punches in her writing and word choices. Also, I absolutely loved the intermingling of English and Spanish in the text. I was drawn into the authenticity of the story.

Under the Feet of Jesus, while not as poignant as I was expecting, has valuable lessens about how our nation treats the people who are the backbone of the industries that help us thrive. 

A gently used copy is available for purchase here.

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