Teresa de La Caridad Doval, Author . Soho $24 (305p) ISBN 978-1-56947-358-0

Doval provides an intimate portrait of life inside Communist Cuba in this absorbing if uneven debut. It is January 1982: Che Guevara is a national icon; bread lines curl around Havana corners; and 16-year-old Lourdes Torres is leaving her sheltered urban existence, bound for a camp in the nationalized tobacco fields of the western province of Pinar del Rio. Despite receiving conflicting messages about life in Cuba—the meager food rations vs. communism's pledge to provide for everyone; professed egalitarianism vs. racial discord in her own mixed-race family; an atheistic government vs. clandestine religious sacrifices—Lourdes is an idealist. Socialism makes life better for all, she thinks, and no one is oppressed under Castro's benevolent leadership. Once at the state-run work-study program called School-in-the-Fields, Lourdes learns a lot more about life than she does about tobacco cultivation. There's sex, for one thing: she desires her gorgeous friend Aurora, who "changed lovers as easily and shamelessly as she changed clothes," but she finds a boyfriend in Ernesto, and everywhere, people are hooking up and peeling apart. Her naïveté slowly crumbling—after vain, youthful attempts to champion socialist ideals—she eventually becomes aware of the unbecoming underbelly of a flawed culture. By the time she returns to Havana, Lourdes has learned that racial prejudice, duplicity, incompetence, laziness, larceny and oppression are not exclusive to capitalist nations. Doval's flat-footed prose and too-deliberate exposition slow the pace, but her sensitive characterizations and rich picture of Havana and the beguiling Cuban landscape redeem her story. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-1-56947-397-9
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