by Abilio "*EstÆ’vez ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 1, 1999
The magical-realist example of Gabriel Garcia Mâ€¡rquez is only one of numerous literary influences to be detected (and often proudly displayed) in this exuberantly inventive first novel set in Cuba just before Castro's Revolution. The action occurs in ""the Island,"" which is in fact a secluded enclave of Havana founded by ""Godfather"" Enrique Palacio and his sister Angelique, whose incestuous love bred a ""monster"" child dead soon after its birth. The Island now houses several eccentric extended families, including that of Cassandra-like ""Barefoot Countess"" Helena, her black husband Merengue, and his son Chavito, a sculptor whose imitations of familiar masterpieces litter the Island; that of retired opera singer Casta Diva, her inexplicably mute husband and troubled offspring; that of the sisters Mercedes, Matra, and Melissa, all variously deprived of normal health and sexuality; that of spinster teacher Miss Berta and her bedridden nonagenarian mother Dona Juana (a pun?)--these being only some of the principals. EstÆ’vez throws all together in a yeasty symbolic melodrama festooned with mysterious omens (an interminable rainstorm, a menacing stranger, a ""Wounded Boy"" evoking martyred St. Sebastian--while, just to complicate things, there are two characters named Sebastian) and skillfully crisscrossing plot lines whose resolutions vividly demonstrate that ""Havana is the city where you comprehend, with almost maddening intensity, what it means to be ephemeral."" In addition to his creation of a moribund microcosm ripe for overthrow, EstÆ’vez offers an amusingly self-reflexive fiction whose engaging author mischievously involves us in his creation (""If the reader has no objection, it can be five in the afternoon"") and suggests through wry parallels (the tale of ""Uncle Noel's"" ark, Mercedes' wish that she were Dostoevsky's Nastasia Filipovna) that his story is a composite of all earlier ones and he himself a reincarnation of Scheherazade and all the storytellers who followed her. Enticing literary gamesmanship from a remarkably accomplished new novelist.
Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999
Page Count: 336
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1998
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