Welcome to my Book Page.
As a Puerto Rican-born writer, I love introducing readers to strong, courageous Caribbean and Latin American women who lead humble yet extraordinary lives during difficult times.
My multi-award-winning debut novel called A Decent Woman is set in Ponce, Puerto Rico at the turn of the nineteenth century.
I am at work on a second historical novel titled, The Laments, set on a tiny islet off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico called Isla de Cabras.
When I am not writing, I love digging in my flower garden, reading, facilitating creativity groups, and I tell myself I am making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. My two grown children are out of my nest, doing wonderful things in the world. I currently live in Berkeley County, West Virginia with Sophie, my sweet rescue Chihuahua.
I offer author interviews and share thoughts on the writing life at my blog, The Writing Life
Synopsis of A DECENT WOMAN
Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.
Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older, wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.
Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, ‘A Decent Woman’ is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.
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A Note From the Author:
A Decent Woman was inspired by true events.
The character of Ana Belén is based on my maternal grandmother’s midwife, Ana, who presided at the births of my mother, two aunts and my uncle. Not much is known about Doña Ana nor are there any known photographs of her. She was thought to have been from the island of Martinique and it is known she practiced the Yoruba tradition of her Afro-Cuban ancestors mixed with Catholicism. Ana also smoked a cigar after every birth, which of course, I added to the book!
My grandmother and Ana remained friends until Ana’s death. As a child, I was always fascinated by this mysterious midwife, who died before I was born. On the occasion of my maternal grandmother’s ninetieth birthday, I wrote a tribute to my grandmother. As I wrote, Ana kept popping up and whispering in my ear, until I gave in to her with her very own story.
Praise for A Decent Woman:
“A Decent Woman brings vividly to life the world of early twentieth-century Puerto Rico through the struggles of Ana Belén, an Afro-Cuban midwife, as she attempts to live a meaningful life. Spanning almost thirty years, the story encompasses Ana’s unusual friendship with Serafina, a white woman of humble origins who marries into a wealthy, upper class family. Race, class, the lingering legacy of slavery, and a woman’s role in this neo colonial society are all effectively illustrated through the intimate depiction of these two intersecting lives.
Author Eleanor Parker Sapia lovingly evokes old Puerto Rico: the graceful colonial city of Ponce, the mixture of African and Catholic traditions, the tropical lushness of the land, and the devastating force of a Caribbean hurricane.
Overall, A Decent Woman is a powerful and moving tale; well worth reading.”
–Alina García-Lapuerta, biographer and author of La Belle Creole:The Cuban Countess Who Captivated Havana, Madrid, and Paris
“A Decent Woman opens with a birth and a hurricane and doesn’t let up. Deep with delicious detail, scrumptious characters, and full of folklore, this is a unique debut novel from Eleanor Parker Sapia, one that will win her readers over. Written in a clean style that lets the historical ambience seep through into our consciousness, this book is a tale of wonder, of life and death, of love and life and not a few twists and turns. Ana and Serafina are, indeed, decent women living in a hard time. Buy it, read it, love it.”
-Jack Remick, short story writer, poet, and author of award-winning, Gabriela and the Widow
“A Decent Woman takes the reader on a journey into the heat and steam of Puerto Rico in the early 1900s. The writing is so visceral and evocative that you almost feel the rain on your face, the pain of childbirth, fear, betrayal and redemption along with the women in this story of midwives and mothers.”
–Claudia H Long, author of The Duel for Consuelo and Josefina’s Sin
“A Decent Woman takes the reader on an unforgettable journey of friendship between two strong women set against the backdrop of colonial Puerto Rico of the early 1900s. When former Cuban slave and midwife Ana Belén delivers Serafina Martínez’ first child, an unbreakable bond is formed despite the hurricanes nature and politics thrown in their paths. A striking first novel from Eleanor Parker Sapia.”
–Arleen Williams, writer and author of The Alki Trilogy
The only thing that prevented me from reading Eleanor Parker Sapia’s A Decent Woman cover-to-cover in one sitting was that I started it at 11:30 at night. The novel begins in 1899 with an evocative description of Hurricane San Ciriaco which leveled the island of Porto Rico – Parker Sapia uses the old spelling of Puerto Rico. We meet Doña Ana Belen, a midwife working in Ponce after fleeing a troubled past in her native Cuba. This lovable heroine is an important fixture in the lives of local women, and through her eyes we are granted entrée into the intimacies of the birthing chamber with its attendant joys and tragedies, its revelatory moments about a marriage’s true status. The detailed description of medicinal plants, spiritual rites, and turn-of-the-century traditional practices and instruments grounds this novel and will appeal to historical fiction lovers.
Above all, A Decent Woman is the story of the evolving friendship between Doña Ana Belén and Serafina, a woman the midwife meets when she delivers Serafina’s first child at sixteen in the poor neighborhood of La Playa. A Decent Woman embodies the genre of women’s fiction in the most complete sense of the word exploring the lives of women – young and old, dark- and light-skinned, poor and rich.
Doña Ana finds her livelihood eroded by male-dominated, hospital-based birthing practices and edges toward poverty as Serafina’s marries into an elite family. Dramatic juxtapositions particularly in relation to class dynamics amplify the intensity of each woman’s position and drive the novel forward. A Decent Woman is a feminist commentary on turn of the century health care, Parker Sapia exposes and explores the process by which midwives were displaced by male doctors along with misogynistic and racist attitudes towards impoverished sex workers without being preachy or overbearing. This layered tale also hangs on deeply-seeded tensions between love, friendship, and family versus isolation, loneliness, and despair. Doña Ana, as a devout practitioner of Santeria, finds herself targeted by Catholic priests while she herself is able to seamlessly blend both religions in her spiritual life.
Parker Sapia’s prose is generally lucid and simple. She deviates from that style only in relation to her generous landscape descriptions which describe the tumult and unpredictability of the ocean during hurricane season in a manner reminiscent of the gothic tradition. There are moments when the story feels a bit rushed, and the reader would like to languish longer in the emerging plot points, scenes, and emotional life of the characters. But on the whole, this an outstanding read and an important book about a little known corner of women’s history.
—Yma Johnson, novelist and journalist
“Eleanor Parker Sapia’s historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, steeped in friendship, romance, politics, and mysticism, is the captivating story of Ana Belén’s struggle and perseverance to become a Certified Midwife in turn of the century Puerto Rico. Ana’s passions, joys, and plight are shared by midwives everywhere and throughout herstory.
Reading this book was inspiring. I’m sure readers will enjoy A Decent Woman as much as I did.”
–Sarahn Henderson, Midwife and Educator at Birth in the Tradition
“I really enjoyed this novel and particularly enjoyed the characters who I could visualize clearly as I moved along with the story. Eleanor’s descriptions really created such a vivid image in my mind, bringing them to life as I read. I was moved by the various events and was even brought to tears at times. I suspect it will be a huge success and certainly one that I will recommend to my circle of family and friends.”
–Gina Tsiapalis, Registered Midwife
“Every description takes me back to my grandparents’ stories “en el balcon de la casa”. My family from my mom’s side are from Ponce (some still live there) and we go back 5 generations of Ponceños! Many of the scenes are exactly as the experiences they shared with me. Your historical details are spot-on! I was transported to my childhood stories and the Santeria details are awesome! Ana is an amazing character. So real!”
–Sandra Santiago, Writer