Ana Menendez, Author . Grove $22 (240p) ISBN 978-0-87113-908-5

In this evocative first novel by short story writer Menéndez (In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd ), a young, unnamed Miami woman is granted an intimate look into her provenance with the arrival of a package of old photographs and letters. An infant during the revolution, she was sent from Cuba to be raised by her kind but unforthcoming grandfather; her mother, Teresa, seems to have vanished. But this package of writings "smell[ing] of dark drawers and musty rooms" reveals Teresa de la Landre's life, from her carefree girlhood to her marriage, artistic career and impassioned affair with revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Teresa's poetic memories, which make up the bulk of the book, are rich in sensual detail ("Ernesto... his touch like wading into a small pool only to find it deep and cool and sweet beneath the reflection") and full of the terror and exhilaration of revolution ("After the triumph... it was the strange and dreadful excitement of a world turning, of everything staid and ordinary being swept away"). Despite the tension in the narrator's search to learn her mother's fate and the true identity of her father—was it Che, or Teresa's professor husband, Calixto?—the present-day story, which bookends the letters, is less developed. The dreamy portrait of tropical Havana in gorgeous decay ("Where the cement had cracked, small purple flowers blossomed, as if every house held a garden prisoner within its walls") lingers, while the narrator's hopeful but pragmatic thoughts during her quest can fall somewhat flat. Still, the glimpses of vibrant 1950s Cuba and Teresa and Che's perfectly rendered relationship make this a moving novel from a writer to watch. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Compact Disc - 978-1-56511-841-6
Paperback - 229 pages - 978-0-8021-4174-3
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-56511-840-9
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