Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Santiago's debut novel is a romantic ode to Cuba, “the Paris of the Caribbean,” and its diaspora.
A story that begins with a love affair gone sour blossoms into a lush tale of sensory delights, history and memory. Marisol, who fled Cuba as a child with her abuela (grandmother), juggles being true to her Cuban heritage and navigating life in Miami as an independent, free-thinking woman. As she seeks happiness with a series of men, many of them also Cuban exiles, she tries to discover who she is and the role Cuba has in her life. Memory is the leitmotif that dances through the pages—from “the sands of my best childhood memories” to the things she cannot remember, such as the cause of her father's death or her mother's madness. Only when she unravels the mystery that clouded her childhood can she find true happiness within her heart. Santiago weaves together tales of longing for the lost paradise of prerevolutionary Cuba and the reality of exile in Miami. While Marisol's over-the-top romantic, doomed affairs (and her penchant to mark each affair with a distinctive perfume) come across as a bit much, the author balances them with tales from the past, laden with references to Cuban history, literature and music. Her description of Cuban life in Miami, from the rich cultural life the immigrants have created in their new homeland to the city's political machinations, is the picture of a culture that is mournful yet impassioned, striving to succeed in its new land while yearning for the old. Cuban and Latino readers will find much to identify with in this richly nuanced novel, and others will find it a fascinating inside look at a culture that is too often viewed as monolithic and alien.
A true rarity—an erotic yet intelligent tale.