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Obejas's (Memory Mambo) second novel may be the first in the subgenre of both Jewish American and Cuban American fiction: the Jewish-Cuban-American novel. In this well-considered and heartfelt examination of exile and return, two-year-old Alejandra San Jos has left Cuba in 1959 with her parents. Her father is Jewish, though he hides it, even breaking a window in anger when his daughter and her friends spy him praying in his basement office in Chicago. Her mother is both Catholic and a sometime believer in the Santer!a gods. Ale's visits to Cuba in 1987 and 1997 lead her to extraordinary discoveries about herself, her cultures, and her family, as she slowly learns of her great-grandfather's and father's clinging to a religion whose Cuban adherents have become scarce over time. Her own sexual experiences, more vivid in Cuba than in the United States, help her recognize that Cuba, Judaism, and tropical eroticism make up a complex personality, which Ale bears on her back like a Bedouin. With intelligent, intense writing, Obejas approaches, in ambition, the heady climes of Cuban American stalwarts Oscar Hijuelos and Cristina Garcia. Highly recommended for collections strong in Latino and Jewish American literature. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/00.] Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib. of New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Obejas has chosen the vocations of her protagonists with care: Enrique is a translator, and his daughter, Alejandra, is an interpreter. Their occupations take on a spiritual dimension as they find themselves dwelling on the threshold between two worlds as defined by Spanish and English. This linguistic duality is but one of many dichotomies that shape Alejandra's life. Born in Havana on New Year's 1959, the very day Fidel Castro comes to power, she is raised in Chicago after her parents' daring escape. She returns to Cuba in 1987, where she's ambushed by the island's material poverty and sensual wealth, all but adopted by the family of Enrique's boyhood friend, and galvanized by the complexities of her family history. It seems that their Catholicism is camouflage: her father's ancestors were conversos, Jews forced to convert during the Spanish Inquisition. As Alejandra, who comes to realize that she is not only bilingual and bicultural but also both the bounties and paradoxes of bireligious and bisexual, struggles to come to terms with her boundary-crossing existence, Obejas relates the compelling and disquieting history of Judaism and anti-Semitism in Cuba amidst evocative musings on exile, oppression, inheritance, the unexpected consequences of actions both weak and heroic, and the unruliness of desire and love. A journalist as well as a novelist, Obejas is also concerned with the biases and selectivity of history, politics, and the news. Richly imagined and deeply humanitarian, Obejas' arresting second novel keenly dramatizes the anguish of concealed identities, severed ties, and sorely tested faiths, be they religious, political, or romantic. --Donna Seaman
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Born the day Castro came to power, the protagonist of this thoughtful novel comes with her mother and father to the United States when she is two, but cannot ignore her tangled Cuban roots. Alejandra San Jos? and her parents, Nena and Enrique, settle in Chicago, where Enrique works as a literary translator and Nena grows roses and sunflowers. Their neighborhood is predominantly Jewish, and as Ale grows up she picks up on small signs that her family has something in common with its neighbors. It is not until she is an adult, however, working as an interpreter, that she discovers that her father is Jewish, the grandson of a flamboyantly Jewish hero of the Cuban war of independence; her mother, though devoutly Catholic, has Jewish ancestors, too. On a series of trips to Cuba, Ale comes to know her father's oldest friend, Mois?s Menach, and through him learns her family's history. In her stays with the Menachs, and her charged friendship with Mois?s's son-in-law, Orlando, she learns about contemporary Cuba and gradually comes to terms with her own identity. The searching narrative digs deep into questions of faith, conversion, nationality and history, exploring philosophical issues in human terms. Though sharp, cleverly observed details bring Havana and Chicago to life, the novel is richer in ideas than in depictions of place. Obejas (Memory Mambo) is concerned most of all with relationships between Ale and her lovers, male and female; between Ale and her secretive father. If the near-plotless narrative drags in places, it is redeemed by Obejas's clear-eyed, remarkably fresh meditation on familiar but perennially vital themes. 3-city author tour. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved