Jose Raul Bernardo, Author . HarperCollins/Rayo $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-621123-7

A schematic, preachy family drama plays out against the backdrop of pre–WWII Cuba in this well-intentioned but leaden novel by Bernardo (The Secret of the Bulls). When Lorenzo and Marguita marry in 1938, even balmy Havana is feeling the effects of the Great Depression. To help Lorenzo's parents make ends meet, the couple agree to rent a room in their Old Havana house, but the night they move in, Marguita catches Loló, Lorenzo's 31-year-old sister, spying on the couple in bed. Horrified, Marguita and Lorenzo move immediately, renting a house near Marguita's parents, in a poorer neighborhood. Marguita refuses to forgive the miserable Loló, who is saddled with a virginity she finds impossible to shed in conservative prewar Cuba. When Marguita has a son, Loló becomes even more envious. Fortune smiles on her at last—or so she believes—when she attends a party thrown by Lorenzo's employer, a bookstore owner who owns a beach club east of Havana. As she walks alone along the edge of the sea, she comes upon another party guest, the young Father Alonso, stretched out naked under a tree on a deserted strip of beach. These two enthusiastically rid themselves of their sexual anxieties and their virginities. For Loló, pregnancy ensues; for Father Alonso, a crisis of vocation. Loló's hidden pregnancy is paralleled by Marguita's, whose second child is looking like an unaffordable luxury. Should she abort it? Raúl has produced an exercise in unabashed tropical schmaltz, plagued with squirm-inducing euphemisms ("like all virgins, [Loló] is afraid of the unicorn of man"), stiff dialogue and awkward plotting. 5-city author tour. (Feb. 19)

FYI:Rayo also offers a Spanish-language edition: Las Sabias Mujeres de la Habana ($13.95 paper 384p ISBN 0-06-093616-9).

Reviewed on: 01/28/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-06-203228-7
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-0209-1
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-06-093616-7
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-06-093615-0
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