Daughter of the Desert

Fiction - Cultural
188 Pages
Reviewed on 04/07/2019
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers' Favorite

There is something startlingly but identifiably satisfying about Cindy Burkart Maynard’s historical fiction novel, Soyala: Daughter of the Desert. Because of the inherent mystery and widespread interest surrounding Native American stories and legends, much of which has become embedded in the greater inclusiveness of a much altered and transformed American mythology, Maynard’s deceptively simple but impressively engaging storytelling reveals not just well-researched facts and information, but also an amazing ability to ground more speculative imaginings about Pueblo Indian spirituality within a credible framework of modern pragmatic reality. Thus, we are convinced that native tales, while sounding fantastical, might actually provide an inheritance of continuous guidance and practical knowledge for following generations. This adds a perfect seasoning to an already compelling story.

The story of Soyala is not complex in its basic plot. In 1235 a young Native American girl witnesses a brutal attack by another tribe upon her tiny village, survives with a few others to endure a brutal winter, and then moves onward with her life. But do not mistake simplicity for shallowness. Maynard fills each episode of Soyala’s life with such details of place and character, customs and beliefs, as well as varied personal friendships and family interactions, to make her story come vividly alive and remain deeply enticing for any reader. Her writing style is disarmingly concise and highly readable, but her prose is also saturated with such well-chosen pickings as to make it as rich as Pueblo art, here presented as a beautifully woven native tapestry.

Heather Stockard

Soyala: Daughter of the Desert by Cindy Burkart Maynard is the story of a young, twelfth-century Pueblo girl. Soyala lives with her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in a small pueblo in the desert. She and her family face much hardship when a raid leaves them with few provisions and a long, harsh winter ahead. Those that survive the winter embark on a journey to find a new and better home, at the direction of the mysterious young seer whom Soyala found wandering in the desert. They are welcomed at a large pueblo by a river, but their challenges are far from over. This story follows Soyala’s journey from girlhood to womanhood, from her apprenticeship at her mother’s side, to the training of her own daughter. It is a sweeping, well-imagined look at a people and place lost to time but not forgotten.

Maynard weaves the story of Soyala’s life as expertly as the men at their looms. She brings the mysterious Pueblos alive in her tale of life and death in ancient times. Soyala is beautifully written, with evocative, vivid descriptions of both the desert landscapes and the people that made their home there. This book is clearly well researched. The portrayal of ancient Pueblo life feels realistic and believable, even the mystical elements. Maynard captures perfectly the atmosphere of life in the desert. Her writing is both thought-provoking and emotional, calling forth both tears and contemplation of the people in whose footsteps we often walk without even knowing it.

Caitlin Lyle Farley

Cindy Burkart Maynard uses archaeological evidence to present an enthralling historical fiction novel of life in the San Juan basin of New Mexico. Split into three parts, Soyala: Daughter of the Desert spans the time period from 1235 to 1280. Soyala is a young girl, daughter of her tribe’s healer, when hungry warriors from another pueblo raid their fields and granaries. With their crops all but decimated and winter approaching, the small family community must decide whether to stay or move on to the Old Pueblo. Hania, an outsider accepted into the clan two years earlier, provides guidance through his shamanic gifts that will ensure the clan’s survival through the harsh winter.

Soyala: Daughter of the Desert is a delightful read from page one to the end. This novel follows Soyala’s life from her childhood in the small pueblo with her extended family to her maturity. While the plot presents the reader with a series of gripping trials and tribulations as Soyala marries, has children of her own, and grandchildren, much of this novel’s charm lies in the minutiae of everyday life. Maynard portrays a convincing portrait of the challenges of surviving on subsistence farming and hunting, and the importance of Soyala and her mother’s plant knowledge as they gather edible plants to supplement the clan’s diet as well as the medicinal herbs needed to treat illness. There is an intriguing cultural balance between the matriarchal element of the core family and the strong role the husbands take in decision-making. Maynard blends fascinating anthropological details into an astounding historical fiction novel that warms the heart as often as it breaks it.

Cindy Burkart Maynard

I want to thank me reviewers for reading the book and taking time to comment on it. Their opinions are thorough, well-considered, and well-written. They really grasped the essence of the story. I am grateful.