An abortive revolution in postwar Puerto Rico parallels a family’s unraveling in Cuban-born Montero’s intricate 2002 novel (her sixth in English translation).
Its narrative is a mosaic assembled from the memories of Andrés Yasin, the son of a half-Lebanese hotelier, Frank, and his beautiful, headstrong younger wife Estela. The present action describes 62-year-old Andrés’s 2000 reunion on the island of St. Croix with elderly, cancer-ridden American J.T. Bunker, the family friend whom Andrés has hated since the aftermath of the 1950 “revolution” in which both adult Yasins had been involved, and which was easily quashed by U.S. military forces, prior to the establishment of the Puerto Rican commonwealth. Montero reveals historical details skillfully, mostly through Andrés’s recollections of his adolescence, when his own inchoate awareness of sex was distracted by evidence of “nationalist” activity (centered in a local barbershop), and by intimations of his mother’s suspiciously close friendship with the dashing American. For Bunker was an amateur pilot, who flew dead bodies from the states to tiny Vieques Island, east of Puerto Rico (the site of Frank’s hotel) for home burial—and also transported small arms for nationalist conspirators. Another series of flashbacks detail the adult Andrés’s 1973 visit to the U.S., where his dying father lives with his second family—and begins to reveal the truth about Estela’s infidelity and his family’s complicity in the failed revolution. Then the full truth emerges years later in St. Croix, as “the captain of the sleepers” prepares for his final flight. Montero—who has a wizard’s ability to transfix readers’ attention as she peels away successive, deceptive layers of plot and meaning—has never written better than in this increasingly suspenseful tale of divided loyalties and lingering resentment and sorrow.
She’s one of Latin America’s finest writers, and this is her best novel yet.