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by Ana Castillo

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-49676-1
Publisher: Doubleday

Castillo (Loverboys, 1996, etc.) covers familiar territory here—the trials and tribulations of passion, displacement, and cultural identity—but offers a pleasing combination of the light and cheeky with the lyrically romantic. Forty-year-old Carmen “La Coja” (the cripple) finds herself at the crossroads of life, though both paths seem to lead into the abyss. Once locally renowned as a flamenco dancer (despite her one polio-afflicted leg), Carmen now finds herself doing piece work in a Chicago sweatshop and trying to cope with both the devastating reemergence of her polio and the abandonment of her two lovers. Splicing the dismal present with her glorious past, Carmen tells of her 17-year relationship with Agust°n, her dance troupe’s dictatorial leader and her passionate one-year affair with his godson Manolo. The complicated triangle is alternately concerned with the heartstrings of love and the rigid customs of culture; both Agust°n and Manolo are Romany and follow a strict code of conventions, including a ban on marriage outside of the tribe. Though Latina, Carmen is accepted as a fellow gypsy, which serves to further splinter her identity-doting daughter to a mother whose disappointment is all too palatable, disabled dancer, muse to one man and siren to another. When Carmen issues an ultimatum to Manolo—he—ll be loyal to Agust°n or to her?—the two men disappear, leaving Carmen for five long years yearning for the erotic memory of Manolo and the comfort of Agust°n. Then both suddenly reappear in her life, with the same old demands and dilemmas. How she resolves her not-so-unpleasant quandary is a testament to her newly discovered sense of self as a singer and the old resilience that brought dance to an immovable leg. Observant and witty, if not altogether exceptional: Castillo creates a poignant portrait of passion lost and regained.