Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spanish Lit Month: The Island of Eternal Love by Daina Chaviano

Publisher: Riverhead
Translator: Andrea G. Labinger
Date: 2006 (English trans. 2008)
Format: hardback
Source: purchased used
Read: for Spanish Lit Month
Pages: 315
Reading time: three days

Country: Cuba. Chaviano is noted as being among the three top female authors of Spanish-language speculative fiction. Though she has written many novels and collections of short stories, The Island of Eternal Love is currently the only book of hers to be published in English. Chaviano moved from Cuba to the U.S. in 1991.

From GoodReads: Cecilia is alone in a city that haunts her. Life in Miami evokes memories of Cuba: a scent in the breeze like the sea at the Malecon; the beat of a clave recalls island evenings when couples danced to forgotten rhythms. Far from her family, her history, and her home, Cecilia seeks refuge in a bar in Little Havana, where a mysterious old woman's fascinating tale keeps her returning night after night. It is a story of three families from opposite corners of the world - from Africa, Spain, and China - that spans more than a century. Within it, a Chinese widow seeks protection for her daughter in her family's idols; an African slave brings the rhythms of her birth to an enchanted island; and a curse dances before the female descendants of a charmed Spanish matriarch, forming the mythic origins of one family's indestructible bond. The connection strengthens with each generation into a legendary, unbreakable love. Under the story's heady sway, Cecilia begins to discover the source of the elusive shadows that plague her and, along with it, a link to the past she cannot shake. 

My review: The Island of Eternal Love is a great combination of historical fiction and the fantastic. I loved learning more about Cuba's history - and the different immigrant nationalities and cultures that have shaped it - as Cecilia hears stories from Havana's past. I occasionally got names and generations confused, but each family's tales were engaging and alternately happy and heartbreaking. I loved how history and myth interweave through the characters' personal stories, finally connecting with Cecilia in the near-present day.

I had problems connecting with Cecilia herself, though. Her part of the story is interesting for expressing some of the personal issues faced by Cuban immigrants, but emotionally, I thought her character fell a bit flat. I didn't feel as intrigued by her story as I did by those of the Cubans from the past. I wish the author had gone more in-depth into what Cecilia had experienced before leaving Cuba, but Cecilia usually seemed to be trying to repress most of her memories. It's one of the few things I disliked about this otherwise fascinating and informative read.

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