THE PEREZ FAMILY by Christine Bell
Kirkus Star


Email this review


As much about hope and dreams sustained against all odds as about Cuban exiles in Miami, this second novel by Bell (Saint, 1985) is often wise, warm, affecting, but never sentimental. The time is the summer of 1980, the setting Miami, where the thousands released in the Mariel boatlift wait in stadiums and church halls for family or sponsors in the Cuban community--if they are lucky or sane--to give them homes and jobs. Juan Perez has spent 20 years in Castro's prisons dreaming of the time he would be united with his wife and daughter in Florida; but when he arrives in Miami, he is bewildered, unwell, and not even sure that his wife, Carmela, will have remained faithful. Juan is taken in hand by the remarkable Dorttie, formerly Dorita, who has come to America to find her John Wayne, to enjoy rock-and, roil, and to have nail polish. ""I want everything you say I cannot have,"" she told the authorities in Cuba. A former prostitute, Dottle is streetwise and, learning that families are given preference, suggests to Juan that for the time being she calls herself his wife. Soon she decides it would be prudent to add a father--a deranged old man-- and a son--a petty criminal--to the Perez family. Meanwhile, Perez's real wife, Carmela, has after all been faithful; but when Juan walks over to her home in a daze, she does not recognize him. A series of misadventures, comic and tragic, leads to Juan and Carmela finally meeting, but both have been irrevocably changed by the 20 years of separation. And Dottie finds her John Wayne--even if he is not quite what she had expected. The characters, the Cuban life in exile, and Miami itself are all there--vital and memorable. And with the triumph of that remarkable creation the Perez family, Bell has achieved another victory for innocence and the loving heart. A wonderful read.

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 1990
Publisher: Norton