Author: Derek Palacio
Publisher: Tim Duggan Books
Type of book: Cuba, breast cancer, broken family, Catholicism, nun, promises, secrets, memories, death
Year it was published: 2016
Derek Palacio’s stunning, mythic novel marks the arrival of a fresh voice and a new chapter in the history of 21st century Cuban-American literature.
In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.
Each struggles and flourishes in their own way: Isabel, spiritually hungry and desperate for higher purpose, finds herself tethered to death and the dying in uncanny ways. Ulises is bookish and awkwardly tall, like his father, whose memory haunts and shapes the boy's thoughts and desires. Presiding over them both is Soledad. Once consumed by her love for her husband, she begins a tempestuous new relationship with a Dutch tobacco farmer. But just as the Encarnacións begin to cultivate their strange new way of life, Cuba calls them back. Uxbal is alive, and waiting.
Breathtaking, soulful, and profound, The Mortifications is an intoxicating family saga and a timely, urgent expression of longing for one's true homeland.
Main characters include Soledad, Isabel, Ulises and Willems. There are no well drawn secondary characters. Soledad is a resourceful single mother of two who seems to be torn between her new and old life and cannot make up her mind as to what she wants. She also seems to be the type that doesn't like to think back of how things were and she loves her daughter far more than her son. Isabel at first is a complex character because she tries to find her physical passions but cannot and ultimately she decides that she likes helping people cross over and decides to take the veil. Ulises is more of an outsider and is best described as scholarly, geeky, extremely tall and is someone who loves physical work and is practical far more than romantic. Probably Willlems is the only character I could relate to because he is clearly drawn and written and isn't as complex.
Past ultimately haunts people
The story is in third person narrative from Ulises's, Isabel's and Soledad's points of view. While reading the book, I often felt as if the author seemed to lack subtlety when it comes to symbolism and future, or else the events that happened to characters are bizarre. The story started out promisingly when Isabel decides to become a nun and becomes known as the Death Torch in her community as well as various passions she tries to experience but fails. Soledad also takes up with Willems who is a Dutch tobacco farmer and also tries to make sure her life goes forward with her children and new lover while Ulises, through Soledad's lover grows to love smoking and can even find which tobacco leaves are good or bad and which cigars are good. The last half, for me, makes no sense. Uxbal sends over a letter to his family and all have interesting reactions: Isabel vanishes, Soledad gets breast cancer and begs Ulises to find his sister while Willems has no idea what will happen to him and tries to hold on to Soledad through violent sex.
(From back of the book)
Derek Palacio holds an MFA in creative writing from The Ohio State University. His short story "Sugarcane" appeared in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013. He is the co-director, with Claire Vaye Watkins, of the Mojave School, a free creative writing workshop for teenager in rural Nevada. He lives and teaches in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
I'm sorry but no, I didn't like the book. I wanted to like it, wanted to be excited about it, but I couldn't be. I found the story to be disjointed, confusing and I really couldn't make heads or tails of why the characters decided to do what they have done. At first, I thought I would like the story because it's different than what I read previously, and it had some elements here and there that I would be able to relate to. However, as the story went on and got more and more absurd, (at least to me) I was disappointed to realize that most likely I will not keep the book. The women characters were inconsistent in beginning and the end, at least Isabel was, and Ulises wore an armor that didn't let anyone in which made for an unexciting read. The romances and the couples felt forced and seemed to be last minute additions.
This is for LibraryThing
1 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)