In the early 1900s, a Cuban mother and daughter immigrate to New York and overcome adversity.
In this debut novel, Colado draws on the experiences of her family to present the story of Anna and Marti. Impregnated by her sister’s boyfriend in Cuba, Anna gives birth to Marti at the age of 14, puts her in the care of others, and claims she’s the baby’s aunt. Later, Anna moves to New York, where she struggles at first but becomes established and lives with an Italian immigrant named Jimmy. She brings 13-year-old Marti up from Cuba, taking her out of a Roman Catholic boarding school. In New York, Marti confronts her mother about referring to her as her niece, but Anna and Jimmy continue to describe her that way to others, saying Marti’s mother died in childbirth. When Marti grows up, she marries a Cuban immigrant named Alfredo, who works in the garment industry but suffers from a serious heart condition. Enduring racism and anti-Hispanic sentiment, the couple have three children, buy a farm in upstate New York, and prosper. Years later, after Alfredo’s heart condition kills him, Marti carries on, selling the farm, building a rental apartment in her new house to bring in income, and learning to drive “in spite of the perpetual sound of honking that came from the cars driving behind her.” This is an uneven tale. Although Colado delivers superb portraits of a few characters, especially the wisecracking, easygoing Alfredo, she crams too many people and centuries of Cuban history into this short novel. A couple of relatives in the military, for instance, have little to do with the main narrative. Even Marti’s mother, Anna, isn’t well-drawn, and the emotional distance between the two women isn’t fully explored or resolved. Abrupt transitions can make the reading choppy. Still, Colado spins a heartfelt story of grit and perseverance, and the tale features several poignant moments, including Alfredo’s death. In addition, the author’s descriptive powers can be strong: a dying chicken flaps “like newspaper during a storm,” and the young Anna is “a caterpillar who could not return to its chrysalis.” The book, which will likely appeal primarily to the author’s relatives, includes strange-looking snapshots that appear to have been Photoshopped.
An informative read for anyone interested in the history of Cubans who moved to the U.S. before the mass emigration sparked by Castro’s revolution.