When I was in graduate school in Syracuse, our best nights seemed to always involve a guy named Phil LaMarche. He wasn’t a partier or a wild guy. But he could sure tell a story.
In this fast-paced, technological advanced age, Phil would get everyone to quiet down, lean in, laugh and gasp at all the right moments. He had a gift, and so does author Chantel Acevedo. In her latest novel, The Distant Marvels, Acevedo takes a great story to another level with her remarkable storytelling.
The year is 1963 and Hurricane Flora is beating down on Cuba. María Sirena finds herself waiting out the storm with seven other women on the top floor of Casa Velázquez, the former governor’s mansion and oldest home on the island. To pass the time, María begins to tell the women stories of her life – of her tumultuous birth at sea in 1881, of her parent’s and grandparent’s struggles for independence, of her tragic teenage love affair. As the storm rages on and María’s health becomes frail, her storytelling takes on new urgency: she must tell her story, the whole story, before she dies so she might be remembered – and forgiven.
And while María’s story is remarkable, but what’s more is the way Acevedo tells it: Moving back and forth in time between the present-day situation in Casa Velázquez and María’s family history, Acevedo smoothly structures a novel that, while multi-generational in scope, sacrifices nothing in terms of depth.
Structurally, this novel is incredible. But Acevedo is a master on a line level as well, knocking us to the ground with her beautiful sentences: “That is how it is with the young. They are pots that boil over quickly, and then, one day, the heat beneath them is turned off, and the anger dissipates, and what’s left behind is the person they are to become.”
A true storyteller in every sense, Acevedo will capture your attention – and your heart.
Review by Laura Farmer, book reviewer for The Cedar Rapids Gazette.