Book Review: Habanera

A Portrait of a Cuban Family
Author: Teresa Dovalpage
Pages: 218 paperback
Reading Level: Adult
Published: November 12th 2010
Review Source: Floricanto Press
Available: Amazon / Barnes & Noble 

Summary: (from goodreads) Habanera is a wonderfully lively and entertaining journey, alternately humorous and wistful. By the end, you will feel as if you have traveled to one of the most exotic islands on earth, during its most surrealistic historical moment. Dovalpage is a master of quirky, lovable characters, and emotionally resonant narrative. Habanera bursts with the energetic curiosity and hopefulness of youth. Margarita Engle, Newbery Honor-winning author of The Surrender Tree

La Habanera is an irresistible, even wickedly addictive ride into dysfunction within dysfunction. Rick in wit and irony provided by Longina, a savvy young narrator coming of age in an eccentric family living in post-revolutionary Cuba, this novel delivers what Dovalpage does best: laugh-out-loud humor and deeply felt, deeply moving drama-all of it sharply spiced with bad and bawdy sandunga!
Lorraine López, author of The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters, winner of the Miguel Marmol Prize for Fiction and a finalist for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award.

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana and presently lives in Taos, New Mexico. She is the author of the novels A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004) and Posesas de La Habana (Haunted ladies of Havana, PurePlay Press, 2004). Her third novel Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama, 2006) was a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain. Her collection of short stories Por culpa de Candela! was published by Floricanto Press in 2008. She won the Rincón de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009 for her short novel El difunto Fidel (The late Fidel).

I was excited to read this book because it’s part of my heritage and where my entire family including that of my husband is from. I have heard stories about the history and current living conditions and not to mention the politics of Cuba but the way that the author portrayed it gives you a better understanding. It fascinates me how she is able to describe what’s going on in her life and in her surroundings all the while she growing up and going through all these different situations and problems. You feel the heart ache and pain that these people go through on a day to day basis and yet we take it for granted. I visited Cuba about 10 years ago and it was not as bad as it is today. But we do need to realize that no matter how bad we have it, it’s 10x better then their best day in Cuba. Think about that.

This story takes you on a journey of how Longina (the main character), grew up in Cuba in the
late 80’s and early 90’s and how she begins to discover the world around her. The story begins with Longina hanging around in a cemetery in Habana with her grandfather while he plays his instrument. It is here that she also learns of the “La Milagrosa”. It was said to believe that “La Milagrosa, died during child birth and was buried with her child at her feet. Years later, the grave was reopened to find that the child was in the mothers arms. After hearing this story Longina begins to have nightmares about “La Milagrosa” and is now forbidden to go anywhere with her grandfather. Longina’s life seems like any other girl from any other place. However, things begin to change when the “The Special Period” emerges. During this period, the economy began to deteriorate, food begins to disappear, and blackouts are at a constant. And to make matters worse, Longina’s family is falling apart. Longina’s father Papucho, becomes an alcoholic. Due to her husbands alcoholism, Longina’s mother divorces her father. Longina’s grandmother has left to Miami and Longina thinks she will not return. When Fidel states that Cubans are freed to leave Cuba, Longina is forced to choose whether she should stay or leave.

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