The Important Things of Life

Two recent novels share passion and real life experiences

By Dena Burroughs & Victoria Ciudadreal
Published on LatinoLA: September 23, 2002

The Important Things of Life

"The Wise Women of Havana" - Review by Dena Burroughs

Jose Raul Bernardo?s latest work ?The Wise Women of Havana? is set in the exotic Havana, Cuba of 1938. Its main story is that of two young women who face real life issues ? marriage, family relations, economic hardships, and religious and social expectations. Through their experiences and the help of an older and wiser woman, they learn to identify the most important things in life.

?The Wise Women of Havana? is an easy-to-read novel that, besides telling an engaging story, gives an idea of what life in Cuba would have been like after the Great Depression. It vividly describes the island?s natural beauty and the very unique customs and daily living of its people? ?It doesn?t take long for the three of them to pull out their guitars and maracas and begin to play and sing, while the people, inebriated by the beauty of it all, begin to dance with the total abandon of Cuban criollo men and women?? (page 112).

Lots of sexuality is mixed in the story, also. Not necessarily graphic sexual material, but as an example, one of its side lines is that of a priest who is ashamed of his homosexual tendencies, and eventually gives in to the pleasures of the flesh with a woman in an effort to prove his ?normality?. There is talk of premarital sex, pregnancy, abortion, adoption, and other such matters.

?The Wise Women of Havana? is available in hardcover. I saw it both at Barnes and Noble and online at http://www.Amazon.com. It is nice reading for anyone; but if you are from Cuba, it is a must.

"Let Their Spirits Dance" - Review by Victoria Ciudadreal

Stella Pope Duarte?s novel "Let Their Spirits Dance" is a wonderful and poignant story about hope and family bonds that are important no matter who you are or where you come from. She shares a story about miracles and the unconditional love of a mother searching for answers thirty years after her son is killed in the Vietnam War. It?s a well-written, mystic tale -- so vivid and detailed that you feel as though you are part of the story. The characters became so real that I couldn?t help falling in love with the Ramirez family, as I shared their journey from Arizona to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.

?We?re moving back in time to ?68, before it all started. Michael says every living thing in the universe creates a sound, the sun, the moon, planets, the earth, trees, plants, animals, humans, everything emits invisible sound waves that ring, buzz, sputter and produce frequencies we can only pick up with radar instruments and some only with our spirits. My mother picked up Jesse?s voice, vibrations that started in her ears, and traveled to her mind and heart. We?re paying him a visit now where his memory lives in cold granite, behind the letters of his name. Each name is a story on the Wall, each story is a cry of despair, ringing, buzzing and sputtering pain throughout America. War is real! War is death! My mother listens to such things even when I wish she wouldn?t.?

The compelling story unfolds slowly and Stella brings you into a world of parallel universes, Indian ancestors and brave warriors. The death of Jesse A. Ramirez is a sad reminder of those who went off to war and never came home. The grief over the loss of their beloved son and brother is felt throughout the book. The ending is amazing! A mother?s promise is fulfilled as the Ramirez Family is brought closer together by keeping their Mother?s manda. It made me cry and yearn for those I have loved and lost, reminding me that their spirits live on in my heart.

About Dena Burroughs & Victoria Ciudadreal:
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