This ambitious third novel from the Havana author (I Gave You All I Had, 1999, etc.) is, like its predecessors, a bold criticism of the ongoing Cuban Revolution’s repressive social controls and a forthright (in fact, X-rated) celebration of uncontrollable sexual passion. Valdés’s protagonist, middle-aged Danae, leaves her dull husband and clinging family to return to the western Pinar del Rio region where, as a 12-year-old girl in the 1970s, she had labored in the tobacco fields as part of Fidel Castro’s “re-education” programs for urban dwellers, and fallen in love with the taciturn country girl Tierra Fortuna Munda (yes, a symbolic name if there ever was one). This former “child enlightened in the mysteries of nature,” with whom Danae is now reunited, is the center of a vortex of “voices”—heard both in the present and in the remembered past, which plaintively express the hunger for political, religious, and sexual freedom. Valdés is a formidably gifted storyteller, but her very noisy tale shouts its messages, revels in awkward crudities (the labor camp’s girls are further burdened by nicknames like Mara the Wheezer and Venus Putrefaction), and sinks into a morass of forced exoticism, magical realism, and animism (narrators of various segments include numerous animals, and a suitcase).
There’s a lot going on here, but it’s still the least successful of Valdés’s work yet.