21 Dec / The Mortifications by Derek Palacio [in Library Journal]
A mother, Soledad, flees Cuba, abandoning her revolutionary husband Uxmal and absconding with their 12-year-old twins Ulises and Isabel. She bypasses Miami for Hartford, CT, finding work as a court stenographer, making her the transcriber of other people’s words.
Although Uxmal’s presence never seems to wane, Soledad eventually takes a lover, Henri Willems, a farmer of Dutch ancestry who attempts to cultivate Habano (Cuban) tobacco in Connecticut. Ulises, a behemoth 6’7″ teen, commits his mind to college books and his body to Henri’s tobacco fields. Isabel commits her voice to religion, taking a vow of silence. Longing and desperation reunite the estranged parents and children in a remote Cuban village, where each – including Henri – will need to confront history, culture, familial bonds, and weakened bodies, all of which are on the verge of total collapse.
In this atmospheric and profound work, Derek Palacio takes on life – the family’s name is Encarnación, as in incarnation, made flesh – and death – mortifications marking the death of that flesh – and produces an enviable, triumphant debut. Narrator William DeMeritt’s growly tones perfectly capture the trapped energy and the latent truths embodied and sacrificed by Palacio’s complex characters.
Verdict: With the recent opening of U.S.-Cuba relations, travelers and international fiction enthusiasts will want to explore Cuba further through resonating literature.