LATIN JAZZ by Virgil Suarez


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A first novel, told from several points of view, about three generations of a Cuban-American family in 1980, at the time of the Cuban exodus via the Mariel boatlift. It's sketchy in places, and wrapped up a little too neatly, but finally satisfying. Esteban, the grandfather in California, wants to bury his late wife Concha in Cuba, as she wished, and eventually digs up her bones with that intention. In the meantime, his son Hugo, in Cuba, has escaped from a Cuban jail and tries to find a way to the US via the boatlift; his, daughter Lilian and son-in-law Angel Falcon, also in California, drive an ice-cream truck and want to rise in the world; their son Diego, a jazz musician and womanizer, gets left by his wife Vanessa, and he spends much of the book thinking about her and searching for her. The Cuban detail is convincing, and the Cuban experience in the US is clearly rendered, replete with atmosphere (jazz club, neighborhood and family textures) and incident: Diego's friend Nestor deals from the jazz club; Angel gets hassled in his ice-cream truck; Esteban hides his friend Domingo from a wife who wants him in a home. The multiple points-of-view (which include Concha's--her thoughts and memories before she died) work effectively for the most part: the resulting montage, if not always vivid, is well-paced. Finally, Esteban gets his wife's urn to Cuba; Diego traces Vanessa to Miami, where she's with his ex-best-friend Danny, and gives her his blessing; Hugo arrives safely in Florida; Angel and Lilian have a chance to buy their own shop. Mostly, the characters get what they deserve, if not always what they want. A solid debut, and apparently the first novel about the Cuban experience in the US.

Pub Date: March 21st, 1989
ISBN: 688-08475-3
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
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