The first US appearance of a bestselling Puerto Rican debut novel, originally published in 1986, that tries hard for significance as it evokes close family ties. It's the 1950s, and precociously observant Lydia, the narrator, lives with her mother, brother, two unmarried aunts, and grandmother, Mama Sara, in an old house in a middle-class neighborhood. Her father died in WW II, and though uncles and male cousins are frequent visitors in this close-knit group, the women are in charge—until Uncle Sergio suddenly returns from New York. The family, including Sergio, discuss politics (they are divided evenly between nationalists and anticommunist pro-Americans); their Spanish forebears; and the changes taking place on the island as the American influence grows. But Uncle Sergio, meanwhile, is an intriguing mystery to the children, especially to Lydia, who eavesdrops on adult conversations to find out more about him; asks leading questions; and later observes a disturbing sexual encounter between him and the family maid. Uncle Sergio, more suggested than realized, adds a masculine and intellectual dimension to a ``life simply measured by schooldays, vacations and religious holidays.'' Though he returns to New York to continue his political work, he's responsible, the narrator claims, for changing her life: ``...before you arrived I could clearly identify the scents I like best...then I began to like your scent....later...others would be lying on top of me, but I would only be under you, always with you, only you inside, only your smell and your truth.'' Because of him, she says, she discovered her Puerto Rican identity—an identity that gave her and her family ``cohesion.'' One of those finely wrought but lifeless first novels that overflow with texture and period detail but shortchange their characters.
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