Cuban American author Acevedo (Love and Ghost Letters, 2005) here makes a significant contribution to contemporary literature. The elderly Maria Sirena has lived through and, as a young girl, participated in the Cuban war for independence; now, in 1963, at the dawn of Castro’s new Cuba, with Hurricane Flora on the way, she is evacuated with other women to a historic mansion being used as a shelter. A former cigar-factory lector (a reader-out-loud of fiction into which she surreptitiously weaves her own stories), Maria Sirena entertains her fellow refugees with personal and richly imagined stories that will remind delighted readers of everything from Chaucer to García Márquez. Her life story and that of her mother, including their time spent with the insurgents and in a reconcentrado during the 1890s, becomes a stunning confession. This extraordinary narrative tells, from these women’s perspectives, how war brings lovers together and tears families apart. This is a major, uniquely powerful, and startlingly beautiful novel that should bring Acevedo’s name to the top echelon of this generation’s writers.
— Mark Levine