THE SUGAR ISLAND by Ivonne Lamazares


Email this review


An adolescent girl juggles the personal and the political in a debut that moves from Castro’s Cuba to South Florida in the 1960s.

Mirella, a flighty woman whose once revolutionary fervor has turned to disgust, has one goal: to escape Cuba. Tanya, her teenaged daughter, finds her mother’s judgment (and her motivation) suspect. The most effective part of this largely successful tale focuses on the dance these two antagonists do in order to get what they want. If Tanya’s goals are less defined, it’s because she’s young and uncertain. But she knows two things with certainty: she doesn’t want to leave Cuba, and she doesn’t trust her mother. In Cuba, compelling oppositions—Santería vs. Catholicism; Communism vs. Capitalism; the Revolution vs. the Reality—animate the cast of characters. Melena, a sympathetic grandmother figure, struggles for control of Tanya and Tanya’s younger brother Emanuel, but she’s fighting a mother and a system. Paula, the pretty neighbor, confuses glamour with freedom and finds herself at odds with the Revolution. Compañero Andres, a young bureaucrat from an undisclosed “ministry,” introduces Tanya to the verities of the Revolution, but the vagaries of the heart. Meanwhile, Mirella, a powerfully drawn figure, exerts her will by appearing will-less. Her scams, though, run her into conflict with Andres and with “Lolo,” a corrupt low-level official who practices a voodoo-istic Santería. Something of a plot begins to boil, and an adventure at sea ensues. Lamazares’s sharp eye for the tensions on native soil doesn’t fare as well in the Miami section, but the story’s momentum carries forward to a satisfying if open end.

Familiar turf with a fresh mix. Echoes of Graham Greene’s tropical corruption, Ha Jin’s absurd predicaments, and Sandra Cisneros’s stylized restraint enrich what is essentially a mother/daughter conflict.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 2000
ISBN: 0-395-86040-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2000