cover image Memory Mambo

Memory Mambo

Achy Obejas. Cleis Press, $14.95 (200pp) ISBN 978-1-57344-017-2

The power and meaning of memory lie at the heart of Obejas's (We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?) insightful and excellent second work of fiction. With a prose so crisp, the book could pass for a biography, Obejas introduces Juani Casas, a Cuban-born American lesbian in her early 20s who manages her family's Laundromat in a Cuban neighborhood of Chicago. Juani walks a fine line between being out about her sexuality and being discrete enough not to alienate her family. Her family, after all, is central to her sense of belonging, and Obejas portrays that complex web with vivid and original characterization. The tone is set by Juani's need to know the truth about her family's life in Cuba--did her father really invent duct tape, and are the scenes of beaches and lush vegetation actual memories, or visualizations of stories told to her? What initially passes as a series of unrelated, rich, colorful anecdotes about the Cuban revolution and Cuban American culture slowly evolves into a story about the power of words and their ability to actually shape memories. When Juani's relationship with her lover, Gina, ends violently, Juani allows her lying, abusive cousin-in-law, Jimmy, to spin tales to explain the situation to the family. But soon Juani realizes she has reconstructed the actual events to suit Jimmy's lie and is unable to clearly separate fact and fiction. Juani slowly sinks into a fog, until an incident that unmasks Jimmy helps her reclaim her own truths and let those she loves back into her life. This is an evocative work that illuminates the delicate complexities of self-deception and self-respect, and the importance of love and family. (Sept.)