A lonely young newcomer to New York is adopted by a remarkable circle of Latina women in Carlson's charming, wise and inspirational first novel. Visiting the Brooklyn Botanic Garden one afternoon, Claire meets retired pharmacist Isabela, a Cuban-born Puerto Rican. They strike up a friendship, and soon Claire is invited to Isabela's monthly tertulia, an informal gathering and exchange of ideas over a meal. As the youngest woman to attend the Sunday tertulia, and the only gringa, Claire finds herself the lucky recipient of seasoned advice based on life experience shared by such attendees as Aroma, a Mexican gynecologist; Sonia, an Argentine intellectual; Luna, a Peruvian chef; Pearl, a Bolivian-American painter; and Winifred, a Chilean landscape architect. The well-connected Isabela helps Claire find an apartment and a job as a paralegal in a midtown international law firm, where Claire's facility with languages is welcomed, but she is overworked and underpaid. Thanks to the monthly tertulia, however, and to its members' sophisticated girl talk on such diverse subjects as romance, infidelity, health, travel, money, poetry and even Latin superstitions, Claire eventually finds her own direction, and the strength and courage to pursue it. Actual poetry, recipes and herbal remedies are incorporated into the text, and though initially it's difficult to differentiate between the various speakers, the reader is soon able to sort them out. The novel's unusual structure--the tertulia members' dialogue, rather than being integrated into the exposition, is printed in blocks prefaced by each speaker's name--works well, and despite flashes of precious prose and dated feminist rhetoric, this earthly yet spiritual work satisfies. Agent, Jennifer Lyons. 4-city author tour. (June) FYI: Carlson, who is currently a consultant on Latin American fiction for W.W. Norton, edited an anthology on international fiction and is the author of seven YA books.
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000 Release date: 06/01/2000 Genre: Fiction