It’s 1980, and if you’re familiar at all with Florida, you remember well the Mariel boatlift, or at least the aftermath. In case you’re not acquainted, it was an outpouring of over 100,000 Cuban refugees to Florida via harrowing seafaring voyages - dangerous and horrifying for those braving the conditions. But perhaps it was less so than remaining under the Castro regime in Cuba.
The Mortifications begins with a mother, a son, and a daughter making this trip, leaving behind their rebel father; seeking a better life in America - in Connecticut. Soledad becomes an accomplished stenographer at the county courthouse, rising through the ranks. Twins Ulises and Isabel attend catholic school; Ulises an awkward, bookish type, and Isabel poised and godly. Soledad begins a long romance with Dutch tobacco farmer, Henri, for whom Ulises eventually works, managing his fields and laborers.
This tale encompasses the mysticism of the Encarnación family: Soledad’s insatiable sex drive during illness; Ulises’ dedication to Latin and farming; and Isabel’s unwavering loyalty to God, which she twists to conform to each unique situation in which she finds herself; and Uxbal, the father still in Cuba. It has all the makings of an epic family drama, including the weighty return to their homeland, with Henri, in search of each other and their father. All of which is where, author Derek Palacio tries to take us.
However, with all the theater and well-written prose, the story seemed lifeless, flat. There was a third dimension - perhaps emotion - that was missing. I could neither connect with nor suspend my disbelief for each character’s unique supremacy. There were some poignant moments in the book, nonetheless - thoughtful musings at the right moments occasionally surfaced. In the end, I was left disappointed, yearning for the incontrovertible mysticism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or perhaps I’ll try something else altogether.
Publisher: Tim Duggan Books / Crown Publishing
Vickie’s rating: 2.5 stars