The Luminous Hope of Zoraida Córdova’s The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina

Protect your magic.

Zoraida Córdova’s adult debut The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a mesmeric, intricate offering, alive with power and brimming with light. Here, choices and magic follow a bloodline through generations. In the wake of the death of their enigmatic matriarch, the Montoyas unearth long-buried secrets that have shaped each of their lives.

They had always known there was something magic about Orquídea Divina and her ranch in Four Rivers—or rather, they might have known, but not all of them believed it. Orquídea had five husbands, and her many children and grandchildren all grew up with different perspectives on the fullness of the pantry, the lushness of the garden, the way technology never quite functioned properly when she was around. The motley sprawl of Montoyas have all long since departed from Four Rivers, leaving behind Orquídea, the ranch, and their childhoods. They don’t look back—until they each receive strange letters: The time is here. I am dying. Come and collect your inheritance. 

When they return and gather as she’d beckoned, they discover Orquídea in a state of transformation, becoming more a part of Four Rivers than ever and proving the magic many Montoyas denied. Her passing opens the door to deeper questions, as her power manifests in her descendants Marimar, Rey, Tatinelly, and Rhiannon. Seven years later, the shadow to her legacy makes itself violently known. The four descendants journey for answers in Guayaquil, the place of Orquídea’s beginnings and their shared roots. 

This novel, written in the tradition of magical realism, expanded from a YA short story centered on Marimar, which Córdova wrote for the anthology Toil and Trouble. I read and adored that story years ago, and though you definitely don’t need to have read it to appreciate Orquídea Divina, it was fascinating and deeply rewarding to witness the layers to the Montoyas’ story. This novel will entrance readers who are new to Córdova’s writing, but appeal to readers of her kidlit who also enjoy novels for adults. 

I’m a longtime fan of Córdova’s work, and it’s so cool to read her approach to a new genre and age group. It’s not only a departure from her YA, but her romance—this story focuses more closely on family and becoming, and there’s a throughline of dark mystery. It does, of course, have the cornerstones of Córdova’s writing: lyric prose, beautifully complicated families, messy, magic women, and her trademark wit. 

This story spans voices and generations, and Córdova keeps up her propulsive narrative even as the book takes the time it needs to flex, breathe, and expand. The story is just exquisite, page-turning and lovely. Orquídea Divina lavishes in details, digs deep and weaves an intricate tapestry across time and space. The form of the novel moves back to Orquídea’s roots and forward to her descendents’ present. We witness the story through several Montoyas’ perspectives, and the shape of the novel fits so satisfyingly. A literalization of the way ancestral past bleeds in. The way grief compresses time, makes simultaneity out of generations, and generations out of a single moment. The lineage of ancestral ghosts, and the way they live on in what we carry. The Montoyas inherit magic, inherit trauma, inherit silence. They arrive to find her transforming, but Orchídea is alive in every room of the ranch of Four Rivers. Orquídea is in Marimar’s anger, her defiance, manifesting as something beautiful and terrible, still-growing and sharp with thorns. Orquídea is in Rey’s art, his acts of creation, in every moment he lives the wanderlust that she never had the opportunity to follow. She is in Rhiannon’s belief and Tatinelly’s selflessness, and she is in us, now. The readers. Because the alchemy of this book means you will walk away from it carrying her with you too. 

I happened to read this book while I was in the process of going through the belongings of a loved one who passed away. I spent the day choosing which artifacts of my childhood, once so charged for me, to let go of, and I spent the evenings reading Rey speak exactly the words in my mind. Now that that person is gone, who will remember the child he was? The death of a loved one is many deaths. It can feel like the person you were to them dies too. But this book shifts an understanding of death, of grief. Orquídea, after all, doesn’t disappear. She transforms. She becomes part of her loved ones. They still have so much more to learn of her, in the stories they have yet to uncover. Grief transforms everyone who has to carry it, and almost all of us will have to carry it somehow. And in this way, grief, too, is a process of becoming. 

There’s such a tenderness to this novel. This book is a living thing, a tree with deep roots and hopeful branches, but also a song, intertwining melodies shifting to harmonies as new melodies take over, sharing a rhythm and a cadence, and always, always returning to the root of its refrain. Defiant, dark, nuanced, and savvy, it sings of starlight and deep roots, magic in the water and possibility in the land, and the ways we choose to remember each other, to protect. It sings of rage and thorn and cruelty, of women baring their hearts and sacrificing for themselves and their community. Of dark bargains and impossible choices, of the sweet magic that love can grow and of the starving forces that threaten to tear it out at the root. Lyric and wry, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is an innovative novel full of richly memorable characters and an enchanted atmosphere. There’s a deep comfort to it, a thorough, luminous hope.

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is available from Atria Books.
Read an excerpt here.

Maya Gittelman is a queer Pilipinx-Jewish diaspora writer and poet. Their cultural criticism has been published on The Body is Not An Apology and The Dot and Line. Formerly the events and special projects manager at a Manhattan branch of Barnes & Noble, she now works in independent publishing, and is currently at work on a novel.

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