Through letters and flashbacks the reader learns about Celia’s life in Cuba. She was once a young woman madly in love with a Spaniard but had to settle for marriage with Jorge Del Pino.
“For twenty-five years, Celia wrote her Spanish lover a letter on the eleventh day of each month, then stored it in a satin-covered chest beneath her bed. Celia has removed her drop pearl earrings (gifts from him) only nine times, to clean them. No one ever remembers her without them.”
And just like she is committed to her love for the Spaniard, Celia develops a strong belief in Fidel Castro.
“Her daughters cannot understand her commitment to El Lider. Lourdes sends her snapshots of pastries from her bakery in Brooklyn. Each glistening éclair is a grenade aimed at Celia’s political beliefs, each strawberry shortcake proof – in butter, cream, and eggs – of Lourde’s success in America, and a reminder of the ongoing shortages in Cuba.”
Celia’s daughters don’t have an easy life either. Felicia’s life is filled with Santeria and periods of mental instability. It may seem that Lourdes’ life might be the easiest as she has a successful bakery business in the States but she has her challenges too. Her daughter, Pilar, is rebellious and her husband is not as committed to the States or to Lourdes as she would like. Plus, she has a past she is desperate to keep away from just as she’s kept away from Cuba.
My favorite character was Pilar. She is the new generation who doesn’t understand her mother and ultimately is searching for her roots. She needs to see Cuba and know her grandmother to find out what she is about.
At the core of the novel is the theme of family relationships and the impact of exile on those relationships. To leave your country is difficult but if you can never go back then I can’t imagine the feelings of anger, despair and/or sadness that this may bring.
This is a slim novel that manages to juggle a lot of stories and ideas. It’s filled with lush imagery and has a dreamy feel to it. The only thing that didn’t work as well for me were the jumps in timeframe. Maybe because of the different narrators and styles, I found that could be a bit hard to follow. Still this was a good read and I will definitely look for more from Cristina Garcia.
Cross-posted at Bookgirl's Nightstand