Secret of the Bulls

Jose Raul Bernardo, Author Simon & Schuster $22 (304p) ISBN 978-0-684-81817-7
Steamy sex scenes, lush prose, genial spirits and exotic locale (Cuba, mostly Havana, between 1911 and 1938) lend commercial appeal to this unabashedly sentimental first novel. Yet, although it seems to aspire to the earthy comedy and sophistication of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, the writing here is pat and predictable. When Dolores, a wealthy landowner's daughter, elopes at 18 with the butcher Maximiliano, her family disowns her. She finds happiness with her errant husband, however, excusing his constant philandering because he's ``an aging champion bull who's just afraid of getting old, so he has to prove to himself all the time that he is still a champion.'' This taurine imagery pervades the story, in which women are likened to ``female bulls,'' deadlier than the male once provoked. Nevertheless, Merced, daughter of Dolores and Maximiliano (and a Taurus, naturally), can't keep the reins on her husband, who discovers his homosexual nature in a bordello and later commits suicide. Meanwhile, one of Merced's brothers is beset by baseless doubts about his parentage, and another, learning that his wife is unfaithful, refuses to kill the cheating duo, as custom dictates. Bernardo-born in Havana, now living in New York-drenches his present-tense narrative in the lilting rhythms of a more mellow, pre-Communist Cuba. Author tour; simultaneous Spanish hardcover edition from S&S Libros en Espanol. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-57375-399-9
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-684-83137-4
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