The Aguero Sisters

Cristina Garcia, Author Alfred A. Knopf $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-679-45090-0
If her accomplished first novel, Dreaming in Cuban, marked Garcia as a writer to watch, this compelling and resonant story of thwarted relationships, intense, unslaked desires and family secrets surely confirms her promise. Set mainly in Cuba and Florida, its protagonists are not true sisters but half-siblings, a secret revealed gradually and tantalizingly as the circumstances of their mother's death and their father's suicide become clear. Reina Aguero, 48, a statuesque master electrician, lives in a Havana apartment, surrounded by the stuffed remnants of her parents' careers as naturalists. The unflagging attentions of many men fail to cure her insomnia or her restlessness. Her older sister, Constancia, is in New York, married to Heberto Cruz, the brother of her first husband, who fled when she became pregnant. Both sisters have rebellious children floundering because they're unsure of their heritage. When bland Heberto sells his cigar shop and retires to Key Biscayne, Constancia establishes a wildly successful cosmetics business catering to Cuban women. Then Reina, whom she has not seen in 30 years, arrives and subjects their relationship to new tensions. The sinuous and absorbing plot provides recurrent bursts of surprise delivered with deceptive simplicity. In typifying the Cuban dilemma in the Aguero sisters, Garcia gives us beautifully nuanced portraits of a riven people, separated by more than an ocean. Those in Cuba stoically endure repression, hunger and humiliating shortages; the wealthy exiles living in the U.S. are florid in their self-pity and desire for revenge on Castro. Garcia's lushly vibrant prose evokes a tropical atmosphere and a seething sexuality, both steamily intensified by santero rituals and mystical phenomena. The two sets of cubanas share a belief in superstitions, omens and the power of magic in a world in which ""Miracles arrive every day from the succulent edge of disaster, defying nature."" When Constancia wakes up one morning with her mother's face, her metamorphosis is entirely persuasive to the reader. Unmoored by the reverberating effects of the revolution, Garcia's characters search for stability and meaning in a world where fatalism is their only belief. They all endure ""the fidelity of certain, unshakable pain,'' but sudden insights illuminate their different routes to salvation. 50,000 first printing; author tour; Spanish edition from Vintage Espanol. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997
Release date: 04/01/1997
Hardcover - 304 pages - 978-0-330-35202-4
Hardcover - 978-0-330-36923-7
Hardcover - 978-0-517-28892-4
Open Ebook - 176 pages - 978-0-307-80342-9
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-345-40651-4
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-345-42634-5
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4176-3617-4
Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-606-29987-9
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