Archive for the ‘Cuba’ Tag

Bound by Generations   Leave a comment

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Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia is a novel I wanted to fall in love with. Unfortunately, despite it having so many elements I’m drawn to, that didn’t happen.

With the exception of a Mexican immigrant and her young daughter, Garcia’s debut work focuses on the women in a Cuban family, several generations removed. Immigration, abuse, mother/daughter relationships, addiction, miscommunication and loss are brought together through glimpses into each woman’s life. The result is a disjointed narrative.

Loss is the most dominant thread, beginning with Maria Isabel in a cigar-rolling company in rural Cuba in 1866. As the only female roller, hers was the most compelling story. To keep the workers engage, a man read either from a novel or newspaper until war made it impossible to continue.

The next chapter is a leap to Miami 2014, where Jeanette, Maria Isabel’s great-great granddaughter is a grown woman and substance abuser. She’s a much less engaging character; yes she makes poor choices, but more is needed than illustrations of her bad decisions. Although she briefly helps the young daughter of the Mexican neighbor who’s apprehended by ICE, there’s little else appealing about her.

The characters need to be fully developed. It’s as if they’re faded photos without any nuance.  While this is a work of fiction, the experiences the women endure are important because, unfortunately, they’re not unique.  The impact would be greater if, instead of multiple situations, more details were limited to only a few.

Of Women and Salt

Two-and-a-half bookmarks

Flatiron Books, 2021

207 pages

Romance and Politics Cuban Style   Leave a comment

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Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton offers an insightful look into Cuba’s history. The trouble is having to wade through the predictable romance stories it’s centered around. Yes, the plural form of story is intentional.

The first begins in 1959 with the Perez family, whose fortunes were built through several generations on sugar production. Nineteen-year-old Elisa has two older sisters, a much younger sister and a brother who’s been banished from the family for his politics. Elisa is first introduced as the family does its best to leave Cuba. Fidel Castro has just taken over the country and the wealthy are being stripped of their status and riches.

The alternating story, set in 2017, revolves around Marisol, Elisa’s granddaughter, who has been tasked with taking her grandmother’s ashes to be scattered in Cuba. There she discovers there was much about Elisa she didn’t know, including a past love, while also embarking on a romantic relationship of her own.

Elisa’s story recounts her affair with a revolutionary, while Marisol strives to learn more about this part of her grandmother’s life. In the process she is attracted to Luis, the grandson of Elisa’s best childhood friend.

Luis is a history teacher at the university in Havana. He serves not just as a tour guide of Cuba’s, but also its political history. As Luis notes, a lot has changed but not much is different in the island nation.

Cleeton manages a few surprises; otherwise the novel’s strengths lie in the historical references.

Next Year in Havana
Three bookmarks
Berkley. 2018
356 pages, plus Reader’s Guide and an excerpt from Cleeton’s next novel

Two Kings Are Better Than One   2 comments

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Fidel Castro is never identified by name in Cristina Garcia’s King of Cuba, but it’s easy to fill in that blank. The novel should be entitled The Kings of Cuba because the two main characters share a passion for the island nation and philandering. The difference is that one is a despot and the other an exile: the former in Cuba and the latter in Miami.

Both are nearing the end of their lives. Although El Commandante (also referred to as the tyrant and El Lider) remains vain, he can see his failing body reducing his political power. Goya Herrera wants nothing more than to help the tyrant’s life to a speedy conclusion. Goya’s disdain for the Cuban leader is tied to a lost love and living as an expatriate. It doesn’t matter that Goya’s life has been financially successful.

Alternating between El Commandante and Goya’s voice, other perspectives regarding Cuban history also are included in the form of footnotes. At first, this is annoying – as footnotes usually are. Eventually, they’re entertaining and edifying.

Goya’s family life is in ruins; his wife is deceased and his grown children have few positive attributes. By contrast, the tyrant has progeny he doesn’t even know about. The legacies they will leave behind are entirely shaped by the history they helped create. The tyrant led his country into a revolution that lasted 50 years, and the  businessman personifies the American Dream.

Garcia’s disarming narrative combines history with satire, and Castro’s presence is felt on every page.

King of Cuba
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Scribner 2013
235 pages