The Sugar Island

Originally published in 2000, Ivonne Lamazares’s novel was translated into seven languages.

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Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Tanya, the teenage protagonist of Havana-born Lamazares’s timely and memorable debut, comes of age amid the political and social turbulence of Cuba in the late ’60s and early ’70s. This spare, lyrical and brilliantly observant novel holds an ironic twist: Tanya has a greater grasp of reality than her mother. Both characters are fascinating, strong-minded individuals: “Mamá” is reckless and recalcitrant, but has winning ways and a unique sense of humor, while Tanya is stubborn and practical, even as she admits that she and her mother are “splinters from the same unblessed stick.” The familial struggle is exacerbated by the hardships of day-to-day life in Cuba, especially the constant surveillance by neighborhood watchdogs, known as CDR. The novel begins in 1958 when Mam leaves five-year-old Tanya to join Fidel Castro’s rebel army in the mountains near their village; she returns a year later, disillusioned and pregnant by a rebel cook. The narrative then skips to 1966, when, in a town across the bay from Havana, Tanya is a bright and sassy 13-year-old schooled in the virtues of communism her half-brother, Emanuel, is seven and a talented musician; and Mam , quixotic as ever, is planning the family’s escape to Miami. The plan fails, Mam is sent to prison and the children must live with an elderly distant relative, a nearly blind piano teacher whose Catholic faith helps her to cope with the restrictive regime. But Mam is both uncurably romantic and indomitable; on her release, she continues to dream of escape and forces Tanya to join her attempt to cross “the black water” on a makeshift raft. This is only the halfway point in a story whose suspense builds to a dramatic climax and a bittersweet denouement. In addition to the mother-daughter conflict, the irony of life in Castro’s CubaDdepicted here as a land of food shortages and literacy campaigns, a godless society where people attend mass or believe in voodoo and where a young girl like Tanya cannot summon any faith at allDcomes across clearly in the hands of this talented new writer. Agent, Gail Hochman. Author tour; rights sold in France, Germany, Italy and Holland. (Sept.)

Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A novel of Cuba in the 1960s. A “slippery heart” is how Tanya thinks of her mother, and her love for the woman is shadowed by distrust. When her daughter was five, Mama ran off to join the revolution, leaving Tanya with her grandmother. Mama reappeared a year later, pregnant and disen-chanted. From then on, she is determined to leave Cuba for a better life; the stronger her determination, the stronger Tanya’s opposi-tion becomes. Her first attempt, when the girl is 13, fails. Mama is sent away for “rehabilitation,” and Tanya and her brother are sent to live with a distant relative. Tanya meets Paula, a schoolmate who becomes her best friend and confidante, teaching her the facts of life. Tanya’s sexual awakening comes later, when she meets a revolutionary officer whom she loves and with whom she lives for a short time. When Mama returns and goes to work in a matchbox factory, life stabilizes for awhile, but the woman is still determined to flee, and eventually succeeds, with Tanya protesting until the last minute, but giving in and leaving with her. The relationship between mother and daughter is the focus of this beautifully written novel, but the background of life during the Communist revolution is equally well developed. The beauty, the culture, the difficulties, the characters-all are vividly portrayed.-Sydney Hausrath, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.