Many who have had the good fortune to know or work with Cuban Americans find that the richness of the culture is carried on in the fabric of the everyday life. While it's very easy for many to label the Cuban Diaspora as "anti-Castro" or those who have ties to
the island as "communist," the lives of Cuban Americans are so much more: Like all Diaspora, they carry a lost culture, and a cause for a better life.
Indeed, the true legacy of Castro may be the absence of institutional memory. Therefore, the world is fortunate to have the important achievement of Cecila Samartin's dazzling debut novel, titled "Broken Paradise" (Atria, 2007). "Broken Paradise" captures the intimate daily life of a culture that history books simply don't have the capacity to communicate. Cuban life - and the life of Cuba's Diaspora - is illuminated with compelling vitality.
It also is a particularly timely work, with recent reports from the CIA's John Negroponte that the days of ailing Fidel Castro "seem to be numbered," and discussion in the U.S. congress of opening travel to Havana.
Samartin's story, set in affluent Havana in the 1950's, is rooted in the author's own experience and creates an insider's view of a culture that is fading with her parents' generation.
The voices of best friends - two Cuban girls who are separated when one family leaves for
the U.S. because of the policies of the Castro government - guide the gripping and dramatic narrative. The honesty of the characters, and their experiences, forms an uncompromising and compassionate look at how politics can divide friends and families. The book also has a compelling, if bittersweet, celebration of the Afro-Cuban experience
woven through the relationships of the characters that is surprising and dear all at once. The storyline is textured and vivid, giving the book a cinematic quality, while the intimacy makes the book feel like a close companion. The story line is well conceived and it is a quick read for a 340-page book.
Born in revolutionary Havana in 1961, Ms. Samartin is of Spanish descent and arrived with her parents as a refugee to the United States while still very young. Unlike many Cuban ?®migr?®s, she grew up on the west coast where many people often assumed she was a
Mexican girl because of her Spanish-language skills. This unique perspective has created an atmosphere and awareness for her characters rarely seen in first novels.
Although it was just released, "Broken Paradise" has already been selected by Barnes & Noble for its "Discover New Great Writers" for 2007 and by the Ingram Advance Handseller selections (the Ingram slogan: "Before it's a bestseller, it's a Handseller." Here is their section on the "Broken Paradise": www.ingrambook.com/MRKNG/Handseller/0107/book4.html). More about Ms. Samartin can be found at www.CeciliaSamartin.com
The depth and breadth of this work may be a foreshadowing of a literary torch being passed from Isabel Allende to Samartin, with fresh perspectives from the Caribbean Sea walls to the sun-bleached streets of Los Angeles. While this is possibly the best work among the over 10,000 books about Cuba that can be found online alone, Broken Paradise is equally about all American immigrants.
More importantly, it is about the heart of survivors - both of love and country.
Ara Najarian is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and is currently the Senior Partner at the social marketing firm of Latino Consultants, LLC (www.LatinoConsultants.com).