I must have been turning the pages of Katherine Vaz’s novel, Mariana, but I don’t recall those movements. I confess: this fictional rendering of a true story of the European romantic icon, Mariana Alcoforado, absorbed me to the extent that I was sighing out of every porous part of my body, including my belly button (see the meaning of the name of the book’s heartthrob, Noel Bouton). Mind you, I read this 299-page gem, complete with Mariana’s real-life, passionate letters and a glossary published in 2004 by Minneapolis’s Aliform Publishing Group, while I am under strict order from my doctor: “Do not read romance!” You see, I suffer severe reaction to romance, so much so that I lose all capacity to maintain critical distance and sometimes I even forget to breathe. Doc says if I read romance, I am likely to pull a stunt that would raise Flaubert from the dead and force him to write another doozy on par with Madame Bovary. So with writing as powerful as Katherine Vaz’s, I may as well not exist. So I can’t tell you if this is the perfect beach reading because once you open Mariana, you are likely to be spirited away, turned into an irresistible woman confined to a convent scriptorium in 17th Century Portugal during the uprising, over-two-decades-long war against Spain tormenting your heart while a French cavalry officer feels you trembling under your black scapular. If you are as delicate as I am, the drama will keep you so torn that you won’t know whether praise be to God or to Romance! Has Mariana set herself up to burn alone in her own passion, or will she and Noel Bouton be “the first lovers in the history of the earth to domesticate ecstasy?”
If you prefer the gritty reliability of the beach—the feel of sand and wave crash and the heat of the here and now—I urge you to save this novel for the winter months. This is no flash-in-the-pan bodice ripper, but Mariana will elevate you to the truest, highest sense of romance. So if you need an escape that will prove as terrifying as it is beautiful, and you can allow yourself to surrender to the rapture that doctors warn against, I beg you read Katherine Vaz’s Mariana, at once!