The Sugar Island

Ivonne Lamazares, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-395-86040-3
HTanya, the teenage protagonist of Havana-born Lamazares's timely and memorable debut, comes of age amid the political and social turbulence of Cuba in the late '60s and early '70s. This spare, lyrical and brilliantly observant novel holds an ironic twist: Tanya has a greater grasp of reality than her mother. Both characters are fascinating, strong-minded individuals: ""Mam "" is reckless and recalcitrant, but has winning ways and a unique sense of humor, while Tanya is stubborn and practical, even as she admits that she and her mother are ""splinters from the same unblessed stick."" The familial struggle is exacerbated by the hardships of day-to-day life in Cuba, especially the constant surveillance by neighborhood watchdogs, known as CDR. The novel begins in 1958 when Mam leaves five-year-old Tanya to join Fidel Castro's rebel army in the mountains near their village; she returns a year later, disillusioned and pregnant by a rebel cook. The narrative then skips to 1966, when, in a town across the bay from Havana, Tanya is a bright and sassy 13-year-old schooled in the virtues of communism her half-brother, Emanuel, is seven and a talented musician; and Mam , quixotic as ever, is planning the family's escape to Miami. The plan fails, Mam is sent to prison and the children must live with an elderly distant relative, a nearly blind piano teacher whose Catholic faith helps her to cope with the restrictive regime. But Mam is both uncurably romantic and indomitable; on her release, she continues to dream of escape and forces Tanya to join her attempt to cross ""the black water"" on a makeshift raft. This is only the halfway point in a story whose suspense builds to a dramatic climax and a bittersweet denouement. In addition to the mother-daughter conflict, the irony of life in Castro's CubaDdepicted here as a land of food shortages and literacy campaigns, a godless society where people attend mass or believe in voodoo and where a young girl like Tanya cannot summon any faith at allDcomes across clearly in the hands of this talented new writer. Agent, Gail Hochman. Author tour; rights sold in France, Germany, Italy and Holland. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/11/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-1699-9
Paperback - 206 pages - 978-0-618-15454-8
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!