A rambling, energetic memoir about identity and familial culture.
First-time author Anders, a special correspondent for the Washington Post, was born to Jewish parents in Cuba. In 1960, when she was three, her family fled to the U.S. Here, she describes the life of a “Jubana,” a Jewish-Cuban woman. Anders has a distinctive voice, and she’ll score with some readers because she explores an interesting and little-known subculture. The chapter devoted to her friendship with “her first WASP” will strike chords with Jewish readers everywhere. Unfortunately, though, she trades in stereotypes: Jubanas pop out of the womb trying to look pretty; they are sent to bed every night in panties, sometimes even a bra, and therefore have “no clue about [their] own sexual potential”; mothers of Jubanas spend their whole lives planning their daughters’ weddings, etc. Many of these ostensibly humorous forays into typecasting simply aren’t that funny. The strongest sections detail Anders’s relationship with her fiancé, including their argument about Elián González and their premarital visit with a Reform rabbi. Too often, though, her tic-ridden prose gets in the way of her stories. Her mother, for example, is quite a stitch, but the author’s attempts to capture Mami’s accent are hard to follow and annoying. (“Johs beeleeohns and zeeleeohns of eh-sperms and eggs just goheengh krehsee!”) Sometimes Anders’s idioms are quirky to the point of distraction, to wit her description of birth: “Okay. I’m out of Mami and home in my beautiful new hand-painted, imported crib.” And her handling of Spanish is irksome; she follows every foreign word with a translation set off by commas, as in “I’ve got a táta, a nanny . . . a cocinera, a cook . . . and a criada, a housekeeper.” Sales may benefit from the popularity of Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003), but this memoir is not nearly as good.
At its best moments, good bubble-bath reading. But the best moments are rare.