Synopsis

“We are all slightly delusional under the Southern California sun.”

It’s 2008 in a beachfront Mediterranean home overlooking the bay in Laguna Beach, California. Under the Southern California sun, wealthy widow and art collector Paloma Zubiondo believes she is safe and protected. She hides in philanthropy and discipline, surrounded by rare books and the Spanish Colonial art collection she has been carefully building for years. The phone rings in Paloma’s fortress and everything changes.

A hysterical voice sounding impossibly identical to the nanny who raised Paloma in Ecuador begs for help saying she is being held as a sex-slave in Southern California. She implores Paloma to return the stolen Immaculate Conception painting from her collection in exchange for the release of the sex-slave. The caller claims to be the rightful heir of its painter, 17th century Quito artist Isabel Santiago (historical character). In subsequent threatening calls, texts, and letter, the caller reveals things only Paloma’s cherished nanny, Esperanza, could know. This can’t be real. Her painting cannot be stolen property, and the caller’s sex-slave claim cannot be true. Paloma’s ordered world will not allow for it. Confused and in shock, Paloma retreats to her library full of rare books and reviews the provenance documents.

Within days, everything Paloma thinks she knows will be called into question, and she will find herself thrust from a life of order and beauty into a seedy underworld of con artists, art thieves, human trafficking, and a cunning adversary named Montserrat. Paloma enlists the help of her childhood friend, Jen, a psychologist and social activist in Los Angeles. Together they look for any connection between Paloma’s paintings, Isabel Santiago, and the proliferation of human trafficking for sexual exploitation of young Latinas. If Paloma and Jen can find the story of the painting, maybe they can find the story of the sex-slave. They follow the symbols within the religious paintings created by indigenous Andean artists during the Spanish Colonial period. This exploration leads to various places and times, and reveals the magnitude of present-day art theft from Latin America. They scour history taking the reader from the tragedy that befalls the indigo-gathering maiden in colonial Quito 1699; to the failure of the century-old, women-owned printing dynasty of María de Rivera Calderón y Benavides (historical character) in Mexico City 1754; and to the indigo ink protest sign that sentenced Modesta Ávila (historical character), of San Juan Capistrano 1889, to San Quentin State Prison. Gathering the Indigo Maidens takes the reader on an exhilarating journey through time, languages, and cultures that ultimately leads to a place of wholeness and hope.