In Santiago’s (Tomorrow They Will Kiss, 2006) masterful novel, a daughter dedicates her life to reuniting with her father in 1950s Cuba during the revolution.
Cuba is the true star of his novel, which takes place during the vulnerable period just before Fidel Castro’s uprising; each of Santiago’s characters has a different take and level of involvement in the fate of their country. The story begins with a traveling dance troupe on a circuit through the country’s eastern provinces. Estelita de la Cruz is forced to create a new life after her father, a drunken, fading rumba performer, is taken to an asylum. She and Aspirrina, the brash modern dancer of the troupe, flee to Havana. Soon after their arrival, Estelita receives great recognition for her beauty and natural stage talent, which lands her a starring role in a casino production. She soon becomes more ambitious and severs her ties to Aspirrina to pursue greater success; in doing so, she allows Aspirrina to realize her own dream of dedicating herself to the revolution: “Fidel was her saint, her imaginary lover.” Estelita revels in her newfound independence and falls in love, and her lover finds himself politically obligated to the forces opposing the revolution. As the people whom Estelita loves fight for Cuba, she sets her sights on fame, love, security and reconciliation with her father—but her future is tied to her city’s tribulations. Santiago’s prose style is intricate, and his descriptions of Cuba and its inhabitants are as vivid as hallucinations (“In yards full of flowering shrubs and fruit trees, honey-haired children played, shouting at each other in a foreign language”). The diversity of his characters is astounding, and he has an amazing talent for capturing the women’s strengths and vulnerabilities. He provides rich histories for his main cast, and readers will feel nothing but sympathy for their plights.
A historically sound, sublimely heartbreaking novel about the soul of the Cuban revolution.