In her new psychological thriller, TRACES OF BLISS, Cecilia Velástegui, acclaimed author ofGathering the Indigo Maidens, has created a spellbinding work of contemporary fiction rooted in the Spanish Inquisition. In the affluent Los Feliz enclave of Los Angeles, five wealthy seniors recall vivid memories of ancestors after Claire, a young massage therapist, uses her grandmother’s specially blended, Amazonian, aromatherapy, oil. The seniors’ live-in caregivers, each with a rich history, are inevitably caught up in the drama as the past collides with the present. TRACES OF BLISS reveals how memory can travel through the blood—and how much we are willing to sacrifice for lost treasures from the past.
The caregivers divulge details of the memories to Alma Ruiz, a pseudo-homeopath, amateur genealogist, and pathological liar. She conspires with Soledad to dupe the vulnerable seniors into paying them vast amounts for memory retrieval reenactments. Alma and Soledad’s transgressions awaken the buried shamanistic sense of Octavio, a gifted gardener who immigrated to Los Angeles seeking revenge from the oil companies that dumped oil in the Shuar* tribal lands of Amazonian Ecuador. He reacts instinctively to protect Claire and the susceptible seniors.
In 1610 a Basque woman and her lover hide in a cave to escape the Basque Witch Trials*. In 2011 her descendant, Mrs. Dougherty, recalls the flight from the Inquisitor, and experiences the lust of her life.
Resolutely logical Judge Carrera longs to nurse the infant she never had. After recalling memories of 17th century Lieutenant Nun Catalina de Erauso*, a cross-dressing military officer who fought for the Spanish crown, Judge Carrera unhinges at the deception she experiences.
Through her ancestors—the tragic 19th century Gypsy flamenco singers La Andonda* andTomás El Nitri*—La Linda, a flamenco dancer long retired from the stage, gives a heart-wrenching performance to save the life of her caregiver, Ofelia.
Curmudgeonly Dr. Nunez denies his Hispanic background, but his memory of 11th century Sephardic Jewish poet Solomon Ibn Gabirol* unites him with his heritage and confers upon him the gift of poetry.
Mrs. Hamieh, of Spanish Moorish descent and a practitioner of dream divination, is not surprised by the primordial memories Claire’s oil triggers. The descendant of first-century Phoenician dancerTelethusa*, and Beatriz de Robles*, the 17th century Moorish convert to Catholicism who angers the Spanish Inquisition, Mrs. Hamieh senses that these ancestral memories arrive with a calamitous price.
Velástegui expertly fuses her richly imagined fiction with the meticulously researched past into a fast-paced, high-stakes thriller that transcends the boundaries of historical fiction.
*Denotes historical character or event.