Cecilia Samartin Broken Paradise: A Novel

ISBN 13 : 9781416550396

Broken Paradise: A Novel

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9781416550396: Broken Paradise: A Novel

Cuba, 1956: Cousins Nora and Alicia are accustomed to living among Havana's privileged class -- but their lavish dinners, days at the beach, and extravagant dances come to an end after Castro's rise to power. Food becomes scarce, religion is forbidden, and disease runs rampant. Although Alicia stays behind while Nora emigrates to the United States, both of their identities are challenged as they try to adapt to the changes forced upon them. As the situation in Cuba deteriorates, Alicia is beset by bad fortune, while Nora -- whose heart is still in Cuba -- painfully assimilates into middle-class U.S. culture. Letters between the cousins track their lives until Alicia's situation becomes so difficult that Nora is forced to return and help. But what she finds in Cuba is like nothing she ever imagined.

Told with wrenching insight into the tender balance between the hope and grief that shapes the immigrant heart, Broken Paradise is an extraordinarily powerful novel about passion, love, and the heart's yearning for home.

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

About the Author :

Cecilia Samartin was born in Havana in the midst of Fidel Castro's revolution. She grew up in Los Angeles as a fully bicultural, bilingual American. She studied psychology at UCLA and marriage and family therapy at Santa Clara University. Deeply concerned with the lack of Spanish speakers in her profession, Cecilia has practiced within the Latino communities in some of the most impoverished inner-city areas of San Jose and Los Angeles. She lives with her British-born husband in San Gabriel, California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

Chapter One

What I love most is the warmth, how it reaches in and spreads out to the tips of my fingers and toes until it feels like I'm part of the sun, like it's growing inside me. Have you ever seen the ocean turn smooth as a sheet of glass or curl upon the shore with a sigh? If you knew my country then you'd know that the sea can be many things; faithful and blue as the sky one moment and the next a shimmering turquoise so brilliant, you'd swear the sun was shinning from beneath the waves.

I often stand at the water's edge, digging my toes into the moist sand and gaze out at the ghostly gray line of the horizon that separates sea and sky. I close my eyes just a little so I can no longer be sure which is which, and I'm floating in a blue green universe. I'm a fish and then a bird. I'm a golden mermaid with long flowing hair that gets lost in the wind. With a flick of my tail I can return to the sea and explore the shores of other lands, but how can I leave this place that quiets my soul to a prayer?

Better to stay and lay on a blanket of fine white sand, gazing up at the royal palms for hours as we do. They sway in the ocean breeze, and I almost fall asleep if not for the constant chatter of my cousin, Alicia. She's hardly a year older than me, in fact for thirteen days out of the year we're exactly the same age, but for some reason she seems older and wiser. Perhaps it's because she's so sure of what she likes. She has no doubt that she prefers mango ice cream to coconut and that her favorite number is nine because nine is the age we were then and if nine were a person it would be a glamorous lady, a showgirl with long legs and swinging hips. I, on the other hand, have a hard time choosing between mango and coconut and if you throw in papaya, I'm completely overwhelmed.

Alicia squints up at the sun with eyes that are sometimes gold, sometimes green, and tells me what she sees. "Look how the palms move in the wind."

"I see them," I respond.

"They're sweeping the clouds away with their big leaves so we can look straight up to heaven and see God."

"Can you see God?" I ask.

"If I look at it just right, I can. And when I do, I ask Him for whatever I want and He'll give it to me."

I turn away from the swaying palms to study Alicia's face. Sometimes she likes to joke around and doesn't tell me the truth until she's certain she's tricked me. But I know her dimples show when she's hiding a smile. They're almost showing now.

"Tell the truth," I prod.

"I am." Then she opens her eyes as wide as she can and stares straight up at the sun and shuts them tight until tiny tears slip down her cheeks. She turns to face me, eyes sparkling and lips curled in a triumphant smile. "I just saw Him."

"What did you ask for?"

"I can't tell you or else He won't give it to me."

I too turn my face toward the sun and try to open my eyes as wide as Alicia, but I can't keep them open for even half a second, and I certainly don't see God or even the wisp of an angel's wing. I conclude that brown eyes are not as receptive to heavenly wonders as her magnificent golden eyes.

Alicia sits up suddenly and looks down at me, blocking the sun. "What did you ask for?"

"I thought you said we couldn't tell." I object, not wanting to admit I'd failed to see anything at all.

She settles back down onto the sand, while a full sun stretches over us once again. Soon we'll have to head back for our afternoon meal. These morning hours at the beach slip away so fast.

I was hoping we'd get a chance to go swimming, but we aren't allowed in past our knees without a trusted adult nearby to keep watch. Ever since a little boy drowned at Varadero beach three years ago that's been the rule, and there's no use trying to change it.

"I want to go swimming," I say.

Alicia turns to survey the ocean. We see the waves lapping the white curve of the beach and know the sea is a warm bath. We'd float easily in the calm waters and maybe even learn how to swim more like the grown-ups, moving our arms like steady and reliable windmills. And maybe our grandfather, Abuelo Antonio, undoubtedly the best swimmer in all of Cuba, will come out with us and we'll take turns venturing into deeper water while riding safely on his shoulders.

"Let's go!" Alicia cries and we spring to our feet and run as fast as we can, leaving a wake of powdery white sand floating behind us.

All of the rooms in my grandparents' large house at Varadero overlooked the sea, and the dinning room was no exception. Abuela kept the windows open most of the time as she believed fresh air to be the best defense against the many diseases she worried about. Lace curtains fluttered on the incoming ocean breeze as Abuelo said the blessing over our meal. It wasn't until he lifted his head and took up his fork that we were allowed to do the same.

I was lucky to be sitting closest to the fried bananas, my favorite, and to have Alicia right next to me. At home, our parents knew better and always separated us so we wouldn't talk and giggle when we should be learning proper table manners. It seemed that Mami was more concerned with what fork I used for the salad than with my school work.

Most of the time, Abuelo and Abuela were amused by our antics and laughed at what our parents called foolishness.

"Look at how dark you're getting," Abuela said as she handed me a large bowl of fluffy yellow rice. "People will think you're a mulatica and not the white, full-blooded Spaniard that you are." Being a full-blooded Spaniard was also a very important thing, even more important than proper manners.

I helped myself to a generous serving of rice. "Look at Alicia. She's almost as dark as me," I shot back.

"Alicia's a Spaniard through and through," Abuela said. "With those light eyes and hair, there's no mistaking her heritage. She can get as black as a ripened date, and she'll still look like a Spaniard."

At these moments, the only thing that kept me from envying Alicia for her superior coloring, was that she always came to my rescue. "I think Nora looks beautiful, like a tropical princess," she said.

"That's right, Abuela. I look like a tropical princess."

Abuelo laughed. Having been born in Spain, he was more Spanish than anyone, but he didn't care as much as Abuela about where people came from or who their parents were. And even though he never bragged, everyone knew he was a real Spaniard because of his accent and eloquent speech, so different from the brusque Cuban style. "Would the princess mind passing the plátanos before she eats them all herself?" he asked with a slight bow of his head.

Later that afternoon, after we'd had our mandatory naps, Abuelo was easily persuaded to go out to the beach and continue his swimming lessons. I promised Papi I'd learn to be a good swimmer during this week's vacation, but I hadn't progressed nearly enough to impress him.

"Too much time playing around and not enough time practicing," Abuelo declared as he stood with us on the shore wearing dark blue swim trunks and a white guayabera shirt, perfectly pressed by Abuela that morning and every morning.

Alicia and I stood on either side of him, each clasping onto one of his big hands as we gazed out at the peaceful sea. Together, we stepped into the water and felt the waves caress our feet. We ventured in further and the silky blanket swirled up to our knees and then up to our waists, but we could easily see our toes wiggling in the sand.

We stood silent and nervous, waiting for Abuelo's instructions to begin. Perhaps he'd have us float on our backs as he usually did. Maybe we'd practice kicking our feet with our heads under water while he taxied us around by our hands that grasped at him for dear life when he dared to let go. Or he'd dive into deeper water while we clung to his neck, laughing and sputtering when he came up for air. "Not so deep, Abuelo!" we'd cry, hoping he'd go a little deeper still.

Instead, he pointed to the platform that floated a hundred yards from the shore. "You see that out there?"

We were quite familiar with the platform. This was the famous place to which both of our fathers had to swim as children in order to be declared real swimmers and allowed into the ocean without adult supervision. We'd heard the stories a million times and when our parents dropped us off we bragged that by the end of the week we would've conquered the platform.

On most days older kids were on and around it, diving into the water, lifting themselves easily on to the wooden planks, and jumping off again like loud happy seals, but on this afternoon the platform bobbed about without a soul upon it. In fact, except for a couple very far off holding hands, the beach was empty. Everyone still seemed to be resting after lunch.

"Well, do you see it?" Abuelo asked again, still pointing.

I felt the butterflies begin to stir. "Yes, I see it."

I detected a slight tremor in Alicia's voice as well.

He squeezed our hands. "Today you're going to swim out there all by yourselves. Who wants to go first?"

Neither of us spoke. "What? Nobody wants to go first?" Abuelo smiled down at us and then with an exaggerated expression of concern and surprise said, "You're not afraid, are you?"

"I think I'm a little bit afraid," I said.

Alicia thrust out her chin. "I'm not. I'll go first."

"That's my girl!" Abuelo dropped my hand and held Alicia's up in the air as if she'd won a prizefight.

"Now follow me and try to move your arms like this when you kick." Abuelo circled his arms over his head and Alicia imitated him as best she could while I stood with my arms glued to my side, aware that this lesson wasn't meant for me. Abuelo pulled his guayabera up over his head and threw it onto the sand before diving smoothly into the sea with hardly a splash. Three or four strokes of his powerful arms and in no time at all he was pulling himself up on to the platform and waving for Alicia to follow.

She began with more of a ...

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