Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Broken Paradise - Cecilia Samartin

broken paradise
cecilia samartin
c. 2007
340 pages
completed 7/11/2010

read for: tbr challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Dear Alicia, I'm told this letter may not get to you as the communists will cut it to shreds, but when I saw the picture of us together at Varadero beach I knew I had to write it anyway.

Alicia and Nora are more than cousins, they are best friends. Together, they spend an idyllic childhood in Paradise on the beaches of Cuba, with little more than laughter, love, and family around them. As children they don't always understand the politics their parents are discussing, wanting Cuba to rid itself of its President Batista and hold free elections. Alicia father Carlos is especially vocal in his opposition to President Batista and is instrumental in his eventual downfall. But Batista's downfall does not bring about the changes the people of Cuba were hoping for. Instead, with the rise of Fidel Castro and the Communist Party, the country begins to fall into poverty and Nora and Alicia's lives are changed forever. Nora's family emigrates to the United States to escape Cuba's ruin, but Alicia's family stays behind determined to stay true to Cuba. Though they stay connected by exchanging letters, both Nora and Alicia have a very different path to travel.

I think there might have been something a little off in the time line of this novel. Or if not that there was some simplification in the politics and the succession of Cuban presidents. With almost no knowledge of Cuban politics, from reading this book I took from it that immediately after President Batista's downfall Castro became President. But from the little bit of research I've been doing it seems that was not the case and that, while Castro was a leader among the rebellion that took down Batista, he didn't become President of Cuba until seventeen years later. So the time line of things seems to somewhat simplified or condensed.

Alicia and Nora's stories took completely different turns, but I felt that both were compelling. I did have a little trouble relating to Nora once she and her family escaped to California. I've never lived anywhere other than the US. I have lived in really different regions of the US, but my sister has always said I'm like a sponge and I'll almost immediately pick up the accent and regional dialects without even realizing it. I know you can't really compare moving to a new state to moving to a whole new country, but I don't think I would have held onto Cuba in quite the same way Nora did. It was so easy for Marta to embrace her new country, but it took Nora a long time. I think maybe it wasn't Cuba itself that Nora was clinging to, but Alicia. Because she couldn't let Alicia go, she couldn't let Cuba go. 

The culture clash between Nora and Jeremy I thought was very well done. Most of the time it was very subtle. As Nora learned English and tried to enmesh herself within American society, Jeremy was trying to learn Spanish and about Latino culture before being deployed with the Peace Corps. I think I got a little annoyed with him once he and Nora were reunited and began rekindling their relationship. He seemed to think that since he'd been to Peru with the Peace Corps he now understood what made Nora who she was. I felt he kind of steam rolled her a little when he pushed her to ignore the feelings of her parents and return to Cuba to visit Alicia. I agree that it was good she went back to Alicia, but I thought Jeremy's pushing was unfeeling of Nora's relationship with her parents and even her relationship with Cuba itself. I was not Jeremy's biggest fan.

While I was interested to see the different lives Alicia and Nora would live after each being forced down opposite forks in the road, I think I enjoyed the first third of the novel the best, and not just because that was the time when everything was happy. The descriptions of life in Cuba did seem like paradise, the beautiful beaches, the food, the family. This section was beautifully written and really transported the reader right to Cuba. It was interesting to me how life in Cuba before the revolution seemed so idyllic, yet there were still big social issues that were demonstrated in the beginning of the novel, specifically racism. While Beba and Lola were treated well and love by Nora's family, by being black women they were still of a different social status. Not everything in life before the revolution was perfect.


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