Books We Can’t Quit: Castles Burning: A Child’s Life in War, by Magda Denes


W.W. Norton & Company
384 pages

Review by Désirée Zamorano

The Girl Who Lived

Nearly twenty years ago I picked up Castles Burning, A Child’s Life in War. It seared me as I read it; I did not put it down until I had finished it. Since then, each time I hear of war in the world, whether in Syria or the Ukraine, the Boko Haram or Iraq, I think of it again.
In the opening paragraph Magda Denes recounts how she as a small child begged for stories from her older brother, Ivan, stories they both loved: “The tales were always intrinsically just. They progressed from peril to joy; they spoke of an ordinary predictable world, where the virtuous were rewarded and the wicked were punished…Losses were restored and the near dead revived. Lack of caution was not a fatal error.” The author has announced precisely what this tale will not be.

Magda Denes’s ferociously unsentimental memoir starts in prewar Budapest in a Hungarian family of nearly aristocratic proportions. Within pages we watch the secular Jewish family move swiftly from a household of more servants than family members to the impoverished tenement apartment of Magda’s begrudging grandparents. The reason for this sudden change of lifestyle? The father sold all of their possessions to pay debts, buy 12 suits, 45 shirts, as well as first class passage for himself, and himself alone, to flee to America. From this first abandonment, our hearts are with this little girl. Continue reading

[REVIEW] The Amado Women by Désirée Zamorano


Cinco Puntos Press
240 pages, $16.95


Review by Anjali Enjeti


In The Amado Women, an absorbing debut novel, author Désirée Zamorano portrays the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, wives and husbands, and three sisters who have one another’s backs in the worst of times, even if they irritate one another in the best of times.

Set in 2001 in southern California, this fresh, poignant tale of four women exudes, in perfect balance, strength and vulnerability, betrayal and loyalty. Mercedes (“Mercy”), the sixty-year old matriarch and her three daughters Celeste, Sylvia and Nataly are ambitious, intelligent women whose familial bond is at times both brittle and resilient. Continue reading

Virtual Book Tour: The Amado Women, by Désirée Zamorano

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Today is the third stop of Désirée Zamorano’s virtual book tour celebrating her new novel. Mercy Amado has raised three girls, protecting them from their cheating father by leaving him. But Mercy’s love can only reach so far when her children are adults, as Sylvia, Celeste, and Nataly must make their own choices to fight or succumb, leave or return, to love or pay penance. When tragedy strikes in Sylvia’s life, Mercy, Celeste, and Nataly gather support her, but their familial love may not be enough for them to remain close as the secrets in their histories surface. Forgiveness may not be accepted. Fiercely independent, intelligent, they are The Amado Women.


Melanie Page: Did you at any time feel like the characters’ jobs defined who they are?

Désirée Zamorano: I certainly feel that their jobs are an expression of who they are, the pressures they face, and the dreams they hold. I particularly enjoy the contrast between Mercy’s teaching experience and that of Sylvia’s. So many people think, either because they’ve gone to school all their lives or that there are so many teachers, that teaching is an easy job. It is actually probably one of the hardest unsung ones, equivalent to parenting. Continue reading