Hannah and Ariela (2022) by Johnnie Bernhard is a deeply captivating novel that compels the reader through the human trafficking story, through every heart-wrenching page, to the final shocking conflict and resolution — and you’ll never see it coming. “Reality was, in the godless land on the border, Good Samaritans end up dead” (p 118).
Johnnie Bernhard’s other award-winning novels include: A Good Girl (2017); How We Came to Be (2018); Sisters of the Undertow (2020). Her talented work has been a top ten finalist in the 2015 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, and a nominee for the 2018 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize.
The acclaimed novelist Bernhard, who has been an English teacher and journalist, has written for the Suburban Reporter of Houston, World Oil Magazine, The Mississippi Press, the international Word Among Us, Heart of Ann Arbor Magazine, Houston Style Magazine, and the Cowbird-NPR production on small town America.
The riveting novel Hannah and Ariela, with its gorgeous prose and stunning lyrical language, takes place in Texas (many scenes at the Durand Ranch in Rocksprings, Texas — roughly 100 miles from the Texas-Mexico Border) with a few chapters set in Mexico. The mesmerizing story involves a strong Texas woman who finds a young Mexican girl unconscious in the ditch on the side of the road and what they have to do to survive the cartel who is hunting them.
The growing list of accolades for Hannah and Ariela include:
2022 Publishers Weekly, Books to Read, May 2022
2022 Deep South Magazine, Summer Reading List
2022 TCU Press, University Press Week-Book of the Year
2023 Press Women of Texas, First Place, Novel Category
2023 Shortlisted, Best Fiction, MS Arts and Letters
2023 Book of the Year nomination, MS Library Association
2023 First Place, National Federation of Press Women
Publishers Weekly had this to say about Hannah and Ariela: “Bernhard dispenses vivid details of Hannah and Ariela piecemeal while establishing the characters in broad strokes as empathetic archetypes… the author adds just enough character development to get the reader vested.”
The New York Journal of Books added: “In this tensely wire, swiftly paced, starkly realistic story of human trafficking set beautifully among nuanced clashing cultures, author Johnnie Bernhard defines each character’s motivation to portray the collision of opposing sides while casting a wide lens on a human atrocity.”
The two primary characters (with alternating chapters with their corresponding points-of-view) are Ariela (age 14) — her name meaning “Lion of God” — and, Hannah (age 73) — her name meaning “Grace”. And these names can accurately sum up a few of the themes of the book: having the spiritual courage and grace and physical fortitude to do what is best in the most difficult and horrifying circumstances.
The mosaic of characters & their points-of view in the timeless story Hannah and Ariela is extremely similar to the traditional Mexican sarape, or serape: a colorful striped blanket available in a vast variety of colors; each blanket consisting of a main thick striped color that has multiple supporting striped colors of various sizes.
To better understand this specific connection to the traditional Mexican blanket, the chapters and points-of-view are as follows:
Chapter 1 = Hannah Durand
Chapter 2 = Ariela Morales
Chapter 3 = Hannah
Chapter 4 = Hannah
Chapter 5 = Ricky Alvarez
Chapter 6 = Leslie Durand
Chapter 7 = Buddy Schoen
Chapter 8 = Joseph Gonzales
Chapter 9 = Ariela
Chapter 10 = Hannah
Chapter 11 = Ariela
Chapter 12 = Hannah
Chapter 13 = Ariela
Chapter 14 = Ariela
Chapter 15 = Hannah
Chapter 16 = Hannah
Chapter 17 = Hannah
Chapter 18 = Ronnie Hoffman, Sheriff
Chapter 19 = Hannah
Chapter 20 = Hannah
Chapter 21 = Leslie
Chapter 22 = Joseph
Chapter 23 = Sheriff Hoffman
Chapter 24 = Ariela
Chapter 25 = Miguel Avila
Chapter 26 = Victor Cruz, Border Agent
Chapter 27 = Padre Sánchez
Chapter 28 = Eduardo Campos
Chapter 29 = Ariela
Chapter 30 = Ricky
Chapter 31 = Border Agent Cruz
Chapter 32 = Ariela
Chapter 33 = Hannah
Chapter 34 = Hannah
Chapter 35 = Hannah
The more major points-of view are compiled as follows:
Hannah = 13 chapters; Ariela = 8 chapters; Ricky = 2 chapters; Joseph = 2 chapters; Leslie = 2 chapters; Sheriff Hoffman = 2 chapters; Border Agent Cruz = 2 chapters.
The Schoen & Durand Families (with the Durand Ranch in Rocksprings, Texas)
Arnold Schoen (father to Grandma Schoen, great-grandfather to Hannah, p 31)
Grandpa Albert Schoen (p 50) — Grandma Schoen (Junction, Texas, pgs 30 & 92),
& Rudy (Grandma Schoen’s younger brother, p 31)
Preston Schoen (father) — Arlene Schoen (mother),
& Connie (August’s mother, p 96)
Hannah Schoen (daughter, age 73) Durand (p 81) — August Durand (deceased husband, age 87), with pet border collie, Abby,
& Buddy Schoen (Hannah’s elder brother, outside of Junction, Texas, p 28), with pet cat, Rusty Bucket (p 32)
Sammy Durand (son) — Leslie Durand (Sam’s wife, from San Antonio)
Aaron Durand (eldest grandson) & Will Durand (grandson),
with pet beagle, Bandit (p 58)
The Gonzales Family (in Rocksprings, Texas)
Benita Gonzales (mother)
Joseph Gonzales (Hannah’s Ranch Hand) — Elizabeth Gonzales (wife)
The Morales Family (in Zaragosa, Mexico)
Ruben Morales (“Papá”, father) — Mama (mother)
Javier Morales (elder brother, p 130) & Ariela Morales (age 14), & Alicia Morales (little sister), with pet dog, Xolotl or Bolt
& Elena (cousin), with pet dog, Perdita
The Hernández Family (in Zaragosa, Mexico)
Sylvia Hernández (mother)
Katia Hernández (Ariela’s best friend, name meaning “Pure”, p 89)
Holy Angels Catholic Church in Zaragosa, Mexico = Father Sánchez (p 123)
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rocksprings, Texas = Padre “Father” Flores (p 93)
The Cartel Gangsters / Smugglers
El Jefe (“Boss Man”, p 111)
Tomas (Texas) & Ricky (Mexico) & Aamon (name meaning “the Hidden One”, Mexico)
Miguel Avila (Houston) & Luis Avila (brother to Miguel, in San Antonio)
Charlie Bellows (ICE Agent, in San Antonio)
Marty Smith (Border Agent, p 116)
A Spiritual Battle
Many of the characters’ names have a direct spiritual connection that is a bit more indirect than the actual direct correlations to the Catholic Faith in Hannah and Ariela (see Chapters 13 & 27 for a few examples).
A few of the names and their meanings include: Ariela means “Lion of God” — Hannah means “Grace” — Katia means “Pure” — Flores means “Flowers” — and, Perdita means “Loss”. Such significant names are not chosen by happenstance because these characters have a major part to play in the novel, and their fates also speak directly to their name’s meanings.
Throughout the book, Aamon is explicitly called and referred to as the “Demon” multiple times by Ariela. In the following scene, Aamon drives the two kidnapped girls, Ariela and Katia (who are trapped inside the trunk of Aamon’s car), to the Devil’s Sink Hole. Aamon calls the Devil’s Sink Hole the place where he throws “the bodies of girls who don’t listen” and “a mass grave for girls who don’t respect” him (pgs 65-66).
“That demon driving the car would probably rape us as soon as we got to the motel, somewhere in Texas, somewhere in a town called Rocksprings, where no one knew or cared for us. We were poor Mexican girls crossing the border, illegals and wetbacks to everyone on this side. But at home, I was someone’s daughter and sister. At home, people knew my name and loved me… Then, the car door slammed, and I followed the sound of the demon’s boots walking away from us, then the opening of a door, followed by the sound of a little bell… I heard the demon’s boots approaching the car. His fist came down hard on the trunk panel. Katia stopped rocking” (p 65).
“The demon walked toward us, separating our bodies to the two different beds. He then leaned over Katia, puller her hair with one fist until she uncurled the ball she made of her body. I watched him tear her clothes off, her dirty jeans, her little panties soiled from the days in the car… the weeping of Katia was replaced by the demon’s scream. She had kicked him between the legs… Those eyes told me to run. I did, through the unlocked motel door, out into the Texas night, as black as the soul of the demon chasing me. I ran as fast as I could from the demon and the Devil’s Sink Hole” (p 67).
Ricky Alvarez — Aamon’s partner in the crimes of rape, murder, and human trafficking, among many other sordid and evil things — refers to Aamon as being something not quite human, but rather evil and spiritual in a corrupted form of nature.
“Aamon wasn’t born from human flesh and blood. He came from some Aztec nightmare with his skeletal frame and hollowed eyes. His only ambition was killing for our god, El Jefe” (p 24).
The character’s name “Aamon” holds a significant weight in relation to the spiritual battle happening in the book. The origin of the mythological name “Aamon” means “the Hidden One” who is considered in the occult world and demonology to be the Grand Marquis of Hell, a demon prince who governs forty legions, and a demon of life and reproduction.
Even Ariela’s mother offers her young daughter a stern warning about the two cartel gangsters Ricky and Aamon. “Any time she saw him or his truck in town, she’d make the sign of the cross and say under her breath, ‘That boy made the devil his best friend for a cell phone and a truck. Legiones de demonios, triste, triste’” [Legions of demons, sad, sad] (p 42).
The Catholic faith is the immediate counter-point which challenges the evil throughout the novel. Katia wears a necklace with the St. Michael medal (which is broken by Aamon, p 67).
St. Michael, the Archangel, is the patron saint who led the angelic forces against Satan to expel the evil forces from heaven (Revelation 12:7-9) and he is also the angel saint who fights to reestablish divine justice in the world.
It’s this deeply moving strand of Catholicism & spiritual faith in Goodness that binds the book into an uplifting and hopeful belief despite the absolute evil that exists in the world today.
Father Sánchez is one character who shines a moral light on the two young girls, Ariela and Katia, with his caring words, “Look to the Virgin Mary for guidance in humility” (p 42).
One of the last things Ariela sees of her hometown is Father Sánchez out in front of the Holy Angels Catholic Church, and this moment shifts the carefree moments of two young girls into a swiftly descending darkness:
“But I got into the backseat of the truck anyway, closing the door behind me. When I looked out the back window, Father Sánchez was standing underneath the broken cross in front of the church, staring back at me” (p 44).
Father Sánchez has it right when he reflects to himself at the Feast of St. Bernadette of Lourdes, “Dios tenga misericordia” [God have mercy] (p 123).
Father Sánchez’s faith and prayers to bring the two young girls back home to Zaragosa, Mexico do give a deeper insight into the profoundly moving and inspiring spirituality found in the book Hannah and Ariela.
“Sí, on St. Bernadette’s feast day, perhaps a miracle would occur, and the lost girls of Zaragosa, our Katia and Ariela, would be returned safely to their homes and families. When I uttered their names in prayer, the smell of roses filled the sanctuary. I opened my eyes and quickly glanced around the church, thinking someone had entered. Maybe one of the women with the Altar Society, bringing flowers for Mass. But there was no one, only the silence of the icons. Then the flickering of flames appeared before me. I moved toward its glow, where the portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe hung near the south transept. The tiny flames came from the portrait of Mary, her green cape of gold-colored stars glowing, pulsating in the heat. When I gained the nerve to come closer to her portrait, the faces of Ariela and Katia appeared within each star of Mary’s cape. Santa María, Madre de Dios” [Holy Mary, Mother of God] (pgs 124-125).
A Veiled Love Story
Some of the finest parts of the novel, and when the author Johnnie Bernhard is at her best, are when Hannah’s deep and genuine love for her husband, August, is revealed, and this love story is a powerful and encouraging hope moving slightly beneath all the tragedy, as though it’s a strong current flowing beneath the river’s surface.
“We walked to the back pasture, near the barn, where a grove of trees stood. There were a few bright red leaves left on the Spanish oaks, although their bark was bruised by the rutting of bucks and their limbs bent by the storms of summer and the ice of winter. Yet, that deep red color served as a sign of life among the short, leafless scrub oak and the silent evergreen cedars… I had time, yes, lots of it, but time without someone you love is a burden” (pgs 46-47).
“Sometimes you can love a person too much, building your whole life around ’em, ’cause there’s nothing better than time spent with that person. It’s an easy safety net we’re lured into, thinking that life and that love will be around forever. Well, Hannah did that for August. She never saw him slow down and age like the rest of us. Might have been a bit of denial, ’cause she couldn’t accept him leaving this world without her. When he did go, he took half of her with him. And what was left of her was very alone in the middle of nowhere, Texas” (p 34).
The heroine of the story, Hannah, shows us how beauty and courage are timeless, creating a foundation of insurmountable strength that is going to be needed in her trials ahead.
“My heart trembled when I realized they were all gone. Gone. Most of the time, it was too painful to accept the finality of death, no matter what age I was. My one consolation about being older and facing my own death was the years of familiarity I had with it. It wasn’t a shock as I watched my body and mind move slower, with less energy and confidence in my physical ability. But there was never a time, no matter how many years I walked this earth, that I became accustomed to losing someone I loved. The loss was never filled” (p 156).
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a been member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a been Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London. He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020); A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022), and Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being (2023).
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
“Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being is a captivating new dystopian science fiction novel by CG Fewston, an author already making a name for himself with his thought-provoking work. Set in the year 2183, Conquergood is set in a world where one company, Korporation, reigns supreme and has obtained world peace, through oppression... The world-building in the novel is remarkable. Fewston has created a believable and authentic post-apocalyptic society with technological wonders and thought-provoking societal issues. The relevance of the themes to the state of the world today adds an extra wrinkle and makes the story even more compelling.”
“A spellbinding tale of love and espionage set under the looming shadow of the Berlin Wall in 1975… A mesmerising read full of charged eroticism.”
“An engrossing story of clandestine espionage… a testament to the lifestyle encountered in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.”
“There is no better way for readers interested in Germany’s history and the dilemma and cultures of the two Berlins to absorb this information than in a novel such as this, which captures the microcosm of two individuals’ love, relationship, and options and expands them against the blossoming dilemmas of a nation divided.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“A Time to Forget in East Berlin is a dream-like interlude of love and passion in the paranoid and violent life of a Cold War spy. The meticulous research is evident on every page, and Fewston’s elegant prose, reminiscent of novels from a bygone era, enhances the sensation that this is a book firmly rooted in another time.”
“Vivid, nuanced, and poetic…” “Fewston avoids familiar plot elements of espionage fiction, and he is excellent when it comes to emotional precision and form while crafting his varied cast of characters.” “There’s a lot to absorb in this book of hefty psychological and philosophical observations and insights, but the reader who stays committed will be greatly rewarded.”
GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction
FINALIST in the SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FICTION category of the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence 2020 Awards (NIEA)
“Fewston employs a literary device called a ‘frame narrative’ which may be less familiar to some, but allows for a picture-in-picture result (to use a photographic term). Snapshots of stories appear as parts of other stories, with the introductory story serving as a backdrop for a series of shorter stories that lead readers into each, dovetailing and connecting in intricate ways.”
“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”
“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”
“Fewston’s lyrical, nostalgia-steeped story is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old man gazing back on events from his 1980s Texas childhood…. the narrator movingly conveys and interprets the greater meanings behind childhood memories.”
“The novel’s focus on formative childhood moments is familiar… the narrator’s lived experiences come across as wholly personal, deeply felt, and visceral.”
American Novelist CG FEWSTON
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Nico Murillo Bio ~ Americans & Texans for Safe Access ~ Medical Cannabis