A Place Where the Sea Remembers Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 34-page guide for “A Place Where the Sea Remembers” by Sandra Benítez includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 14 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Tradition Versus Modernity and Life and Death.
Sandra Benitez’s A Place Where the Sea Remembers was originally published in 1993 and won the 1994 Minnesota Book Award. Benitez grew up in Mexico, El Salvador, and Missouri, and she currently lives in Minnesota. Her novel is set in the small seaside town of Santiago, Mexico, and focuses on the lives of the town’s residents. A Place Where the Sea Remembers falls into the genre known as magical realism, a narrative strategy employed by many Latin American fiction writers, most famously Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Isabel Allende.
Each chapter of A Place Where the Sea Remembers briefly illuminates the life of different Santiago resident. These lives are marked by poverty and tragedy, but also by love and joy and determination. Life in this small town is not easy, but the residents are survivors, relying on their wits as well as each other. This interdependence is illustrated in the way these characters fluidly move in and out of each other’s lives. Sometimes this movement is because of kinship; other times, professional obligations draw them together. Whatever the reason, these lives are intertwined as tightly as the fibers of a fisherman’s net. And the actions of a single person inevitably ripple outward, affecting the larger community in varied and unforeseeable ways.
The text focuses on nine characters: Candelario, a salad-maker, and his wife Chayo, who makes paper flowers; Fulgencio, a photographer; Marta, Chayo’s younger sister and a housemaid; Rafael, a second-grade teacher; César, a fisherman; Justo, who trains canaries; Esperanza, a midwife; and Remedios, a healer endowed with magical gifts such as foresight.
The common thread among all these people, apart from their place of residence, is their aspirations. None of them have an easy life, but they all aspire to something better, if not for themselves, then for their families. Candelario envisions a better life for him and his wife, and together they imagine having a child. Fulgencio aspires to achieve fame and fortune by selling his photographs. Marta dreams of freedom from Santiago’s small, patriarchal society. Rafael strives to uplift his students and break free from his domineering mother. César strives to overcome his grief after the death of his wife and two sons to reconnect with Beto, his only remaining child. Justo struggles to maintain his sobriety while steeped in regret for his ruined relationship with his daughters. Esperanza yearns for love and happiness but has felt unworthy of such things since being raped at age 17.
The narrative glue that holds all these stories together is Remedios, the healer. She appears throughout the novel but rarely interacts with the other characters. In Chapter 1 she waits by the edge of the sea for a body to wash ashore, but the identity of that body is a mystery. The novel then turns back in time, detailing the lives of Santiago’s residents over the course of four years, until returning to the present in the final chapter, when it’s revealed that the body belongs to Richard, Marta’s four-year-old son. As a mystical character with special powers, Remedios foresees the exact location of the body; she also predicted the boy’s death. In her short, isolated chapters, Remedios goes about her business independent of the rest of Santiago’s residents. Her life is one of herbs and spirit-walking and gazing up at the heavens. She interacts with the residents if called upon, but for the most part Remedios lives and operates alone.
In the intervening years between the novel’s beginning and end, Candelario and Chayo have a child; Marta becomes pregnant from a rape some months prior, and she is forced to give up her dreams for motherhood; Fulgencio remains optimistic he can sell his photographs for a high price; César overcomes unimaginable loss and finds he can be the father he aspires to be; Justo relapses but plans to reunite with his daughters; and Rafael and Esperanza find love with each other. And so it goes. The cycles of life and death, like the cycles of nature, touch the lives of Santiago’s residents in deep and profound ways.