Friday, March 7, 2008

There's a Book in There Somewhere

"He brought joy to my mother when he was around," .... "Only my grandmother called him the devil."

-Alina Fernandez on her mother's relationship with Fidel Castro, quoted in an article about her recent visit to a local school by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Reading this brief report reminded me of Havana Dreams: The Story of a Cuban Family written by Wendy Gimbel, who if memory serves is half Cuban herself. It's been nearly ten years since I read it, but I remember its haunting quality. Ostensibly the story of the Revuelta family- Alina, her mother, and her grandmother- it is so much more.

It is a story about Cuba, identity, and the ties that bind. A century or so of Cuban history is intertwined in the lives of these women, placed as they were in the center of the storm. From Doña Natica's immigrant roots to Naty's illicit affair with Castro to the birth of the illegitimate Alina to her defection to her elder sister's decision to repudiate her Cuban heritage, each woman's story revolves around the question of identity. The grandmother sits in the ruins of their once fine house like a Cuban Miss Havisham, a fury continually lashing out at the wayward daughter who brought them so low, the daughter who like many rolled the dice on a dashing young revolutionary and lost. The long suffering Naty is perhaps the most pitiable, having risked all for nothing. The younger generation makes their way to the United States where each chooses a different path. Even the author mulls her own identity.

Yet nothing in the book rings as true as the family dynamics here, as there is nothing more Cuban that the tolerance Naty has for the querulous Natica. One could argue it is an unconscious form of expiation, but whatever the motivation it is more than representative of the iron bonds of the Cuban family. If you missed it when it was first published, read it. There's the added bonus of fifo's love letters at the end.

H/T The Real Cuba

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