A superlative family saga that examines the concept of freedom in vividly dramatized personal and political terms, by a Puerto Rican novelist (The Youngest Doll, etc., not reviewed) whose smooth mastery of her ambitious materials is reminiscent of Gabriel Garc°a M†rquez at his very best. Wealthy importer Quintin Mendizabal discovers the manuscript of a novel his wife, Isabel Monfort, is writing about the histories of their entwined families. It's a chronicle of material enrichment and sexual exploitation, of familiar unhappiness and ethnic conflictin short, a microcosm of Puerto Rico's uncertain status throughout this century as an American commonwealth teetering uncertainly between the opposed poles of statehood and independence. As Quintin reads, he becomes increasingly disturbed to find, as he views things, that Isabel ``had made up incredible things about his family and left out much of what had really happened.'' He pens notes in the margins, questioning Isabel's conclusions and correcting her factual errors. Incredible events and brilliantly realized characters emerge from both their versionsincluding Quintin's father Buenaventura, a self-made man who may have colluded with the Germans during WW I; his maternal grandfather Aristides, a police chief whose dedication to the cause of statehood obliged him to murder his own people; and the Mendizabals' half-breed servant Petra, a rock indeed who outlasts several of their generations and lives to judge them all. The novel is a seamless web of plot, character, and haunting imagery (the lagoon on which the family's imposing mansion stands is itself dying, of industrial pollution). As the mingled love and hatred that bind Isabel and Quintin together rise to a painful crescendo, a plebiscite on the issue of statehood vs. independence reveals the flaws in the family's substructure, pitting parents against children, and provoking Isabel to take by force the independence she can never otherwise attain. Its triumphant conclusion seals their common fate and fulfills the aims of an overpowering novel that looks, at least on first reading, very like a masterpiece.