New York Times editor Torregrosa’s debut recalls with rueful affection an unsettled childhood in a tropical paradise.
In graceful prose, the author movingly relates how her love for a place, Puerto Rico, and a parent, her mother, was affected when her family fell apart and she fled the island to avoid witnessing the consequences. The prologue describes a family reunion after her mother’s sudden death in 1994; gathered for María Luisa’s funeral in Texas, where she lived for more than 30 years with her second husband, her children talk about their past, their family, and their relations with one another. María Luisa had seven children, six by her Puerto Rican first husband and a seventh with her American spouse. Torregrosa, the oldest, was closest to sister Angeles, later a high-level Sandinista, and brother Amaury. The three bore the brunt of their father’s abusive behavior before their mother finally divorced him. Torregrosa vividly evokes the pace and texture of Puerto Rican life, “furious winds and hot rains, a place of trammeled beauty.” She describes the places where the family lived, San Juan as well as small country towns, as her father developed his medical practice. Beautiful and clever María Luisa belonged to a distinguished family and had been a lawyer before she fell passionately in love and married a man with whom she had little in common. Amaury, from a lower social class, expected his wife to be a dutiful homebody while he stayed out at night drinking and womanizing. Torrregrosa watched angrily as her mother waited up for him and endured his abuse of her and the children. By the time the author was 16, she had decided she wanted to write and live in the US, where she had gone to school, to get as far away from the family as possible. Yet she encounters prejudice as a Puerto Rican and a lesbian while she struggles to make a life of her own in America.
Bittersweet and beautifully written.