1866, Cuba: Maria Isabel is the only woman working at a cigar factory, where each day the workers are read Victor Hugo and encouraged to recognize their value and strength. But these are dangerous political times, and as Maria begins to see marriage and motherhood as her only options for survival, the sounds of war are approaching.
In present-day Miami, Jeanette is battling addiction. Daughter of Carmen, a Cuban immigrant, she is determined to learn more about her family history from her reticient mother and makes the snap decision to take in the daughter of a neighbour detained by immigration officers. Carmen, still wrestling with the trauma of displacement, must process her difficult relationship with her own mother while trying to raise a wayward Jeanette. Steadfast in her quest for understanding, Jeanette travels to Cuba to see her grandmother and reckon with secrets from the past destined to erupt.
Firstly thanks to Emma at Bookbreak for the gifted proof copy of Of Women and Salt, the premise appealed to me and subsequent positive reviews only added to this.
A short read at just over 200 pages, the book spans 5 generations of women; a Cuban family whose stories commence in pre revolution Cuba, we meet Maria-Isabel, a lone woman working in a cigar factory. At the other end of the timeline we meet Jeanette – great, great grandaughter of Maria-Isabel, living in Miami and struggling to understand her mother’s estrangement from Cuba and her family there. Possibly the main protagonist, Jeanette whose story is the most recent is also the link for a mother and child from El Savador who are seeking to make a life in America.
Told in a non chronological way, this has the effect of making the chapters seem like short stories all interlinked and I liked this format alot. The lives of these women, without exception were hard. Navigating the world, facing abuse, discrimination and fear, threats coming from man and country. Offering a remarkable insight into the lives of these women and incorporating the experiences of immigrants giving a stark view of the disinterest afforded those fleeing their country of origin. Despite these tough themes the book reads well and while being hardhitting remained engaging. 12 chapters tell the stories of these 7 females, inreadable chunks, the characters were distinct and their stories easy to follow.
An interesting, insightful read which I liked, for fans of historical fiction, shortstories and world fiction this short book is easy to pick up and read and one that I would recommend.
About the Author
Gabriela Garcia is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and a Steinbeck Fellowship from San Jose University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Best American Poetry, Tin House, Zyzzyva, Iowa Review, and elsewhere. She received an MFA in fiction from Purdue and lives in the Bay Area. Of Women and Salt is her first novel.