SWIFT AS DESIRE by Laura Esquivel


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A tender and thoughtful, if at times rather stilted, tale of a Mexican telegraph operator, by the megaselling author best known for her debut novel, Like Water for Chocolate (1992).

Don Júbilo was blessed at birth with almost supernatural hearing and an instinctive understanding of all kinds of communication, from an insect's faint rustle to the sweet sighs of a woman in love. His odd gift is noted by his Mayan grandmother, doña Itzel, who quarrels with his Spanish grandmother, doña Jesusa, over the best way to raise him. Doña Itzel takes him to visit Mayan ruins, explaining the hieroglyphics and number dots as best she can to the impressionable boy, who is entranced by the Mayan notion of the galaxy as a resonating matrix in which the transformation of information occurs instantly. Júbilo is equally intrigued by a history lesson centering on an intrepid telegraph operator, a profession he later takes up to support his young wife Lucha, despite his dreams of becoming a singer. In the era before telephone services, interpreting Morse code messages for villagers and rich landowners alike puts Júbilo at the center of many lives as his own falls slowly and inexorably apart. Lucha, the spoiled youngest daughter of a wealthy family, is distressed by their relative poverty and her inability to conceive again after their first child, Raul, is born. Júbilo does the best he can, but his weakness for alcohol gets the better of him. Years later, a second son, Ramiro, accidentally suffocates one night when his father, in a drunken stupor, doesn't hear the baby's cries. Lucha demands a divorce, although she is pregnant with daughter Lluvia, who grows up to write the story of Júbilo's life. Irony of ironies: he is bedridden and mute from Parkinson's disease, no longer able to communicate at all.

An imaginative, lyrical fictional memoir, it seems, of the author’s own father. (Interesting note: Gabriel García Márquez’s father was also a telegraph operator, although the short piece he did recently was much less moony than Esquivel’s.)

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2001
ISBN: 0-609-60870-3
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2001


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