Earthy, overheated first novel, on the theme of Latin American machismo and its discontents, by a Cuban-born author whom we're invited to compare with Laura Esquivel. Similar popular success may indeed greet this florid family chronicle, set in Cuba and covering the years 191138 in the lives of the lusty butcher Maximiliano, his gorgeous and devoted wife Dolores, and their four surviving children. When the couple first meet, fall thunderously in love, and marry (defying Dolores's wealthy landowning father), the poverty they endure early on forces them to surrender their eldest son Mani to live out his formative years with his grandparents, leaving him thereafter burdened by his sense of himself as ``a child nobody every really wanted.'' Their other children suffer as well: daughter Merced with a troubled young husband whose inability to love her disastrously erodes his own self-worth; and second son Gustavo, a would-be poet whose courage in defying his father's expectations fails when Gustavo cannot—as their macho code demands—murder his faithless wife and her lover. ``The secret of the bulls'' that rush through Havana's streets flaunting their rough masculinity is that their momentum is carrying them toward the slaughterhouse. If this novel has an animating idea, so to speak, that would be it. Bernardo conveys such deeply uninteresting truisms in a bland style that's crammed with sentimental clichÇs and flattened by repetitive sentence fragments. Feminists won't be the only readers who'll howl with mingled outrage and hilarity at the lame-brained retrograde view of sex, characterized by such drippy diapasons as this description of lovers as ``a god with a scepter of power between his legs possessing and being possessed by a goddess with a diadem of copper between hers.'' Deliriously ``romantic,'' insufferably maudlin, shamelessly derivative (including a blatant steal from The Godfather, Part II), and very, very stupid. Wait for the movie—and pray to whatever gods there be that it won't have a voice-over narration.
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