One woman's story of brutality, courage, tragedy, and love gets a roomful of Cuban refugees through a hurricane.
As Hurricane Flora approaches Cuba in 1963, 82-year-old Maria Sirena Alonso refuses to evacuate with her neighbors; she is seriously ill and does not want to be saved. But once the storm arrives, a soldier shows up at her door to load her on a bus bound for a shelter. Though she takes nothing with her except a small framed photograph of a little boy, she needs nothing more because her whole life is in her head: "I have a perfect memory. I remember nearly everything I've ever read or heard." Once installed in a room at the erstwhile governor's mansion with a group of women who will ride out the storm together—including an ex-friend whose dead son used to be married to her daughter—Maria Sirena begins to tell the story of her life, beginning with her birth to Cuban parents on a Spanish ship at the end of the 19th century. Her rebel father is jailed as soon as they reach shore; her resourceful, beautiful mother, Lulu, finds protection for herself and her daughter with another man. When Agustin rejoins them, they are swept into the war against the Spanish. Acevedo's third novel (A Falling Star, 2014, etc.) mingles the recounting of Maria Sirena's epic family saga, which ends with a heartbreaking confession, with scenes among the women at the mansion. One woman decides to make a break for it: "It is Noraida, swimming in the debris-filled water, her brightly dyed hair like streamers in her wake. We watch as she pushes aside a plastic cup, a sheet of plywood, an umbrella floating upside down and bobbing along." Such irresistible moments of rebellion and bravery define this tale.
Perfect timing for a Scheherazade-style account of Cuban history.