Acevedo’s debut novel is a multigenerational story of life and love in Cuba from 1934 to 1969.
When Josefina Navarro is born, her nurse foresees an unhappy life. As a young woman, Josefina seems determined to realize this destiny. Bored with the privilege she has known, she desires romance and risk—both of which are embodied in Lorenzo Concepción. When Josefina marries him, she leaves Havana for a squalid village, and she trades the protective love of her father for her husband’s persistent infidelity and aversion to gainful employment. Years pass, miserably. After he almost dies in a riot, Antonio Navarro determines to reconcile with his daughter. Unfortunately, Navarro has been reported dead, and, arriving at Josefina’s house, he overhears what he thinks is satisfaction as she speaks of his death. Despondent, he leaves Cuba for Miami. From there, he writes loving letters to Josefina and he pays El Cotorro’s butcher to hand-deliver these missives. Josefina doesn’t see these letters as evidence of her father’s survival; instead, she decides that he’s writing from heaven. She falls in love with the man who—unbeknownst to her—conveys these “ghost letters.” Josefina will lose her lover and find him again. She will rediscover her love for her husband, too, after he is rendered silent and immobile by a stroke. She will even reunite with her father, but none of this feels particularly significant. This story is full of incident and detail, but the action seems inconsequential and the lyrical descriptions never add up to real, knowable characters. It hardly matters, then, that Acevedo has doomed her creations to an inverted magical realism, that—with her fake miracle and her fruitless dabbling in Santería—she invokes enchantment only to deny it, and she offers little in the way of more mundane hope. Josefina’s elderly ménage à trois, her daughter’s escape to Florida: The first is dubious, the second is only briskly described and both are shadowed by Castro’s revolution, introduced by Acevedo in an epilogue.
Listless, unfocused, dispiriting.