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Effervescent debut about the lives of three women in a Dominican family.

Using a triptych structure, Rosario first presents Graciela, a teenaged beauty living early in the century. She’s deep in love with the flighty Silvio but can’t seem to hold on to him. A sailor, Silvio comes home less and less, eventually disappearing altogether after the birth of the couple’s daughter, Mercedes. The more loving but still flaky Casimiro comes into Graciela’s life soon after, and the three make a rough family of sorts, worrying about food and money and avoiding the occupying US Marines, who occasionally go on violent rampages. Graciela finds her eyes turning to the outside world and goes on occasional sabbaticals, risky for a young woman alone, and it isn’t clear whether she’s trying to rediscover or simply debase herself. Casimiro always welcomes her back, but daughter Mercedes, whose story follows, never fully trusts her mother. Industrious and serious, Mercedes devotes her life to her husband, Andres, in running the local grocery. Shoehorned in at the end is the slim tale of young Leila, born to Mercedes’ daughter Amalfi, being raised by Mercedes and Andres in New York, where they moved in the 1980s. Graciela’s long first section is packed with unromantic yet magical imagery and an almost overwhelming sense of the island’s humid fecundity; wandering and confused, her eyes permanently on the horizon, Graciela could have sustained the entire story, and her spirit hangs over every page after her death. In contrast, the years fly by for Mercedes, and Leila gets only a few slim anecdotes to her teenage self.

Some jarring structural shifts aside, an engaging and memorable first from a passionate young talent.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-42087-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2001