From Cuba to Miami, these women participate with abusive men and countries

Of women and women
By Gabriella Garcia

In Gabriela Garcia’s “Women and Salt Beginners”, Carmen writes to her daughter, Zeenat, “I was afraid to look back because then I saw what was coming.” Carmen makes Zeenat in Miami honest with him without being completely honest about why he left Cuba or why the split between Carmen and his own mother and sister seems so final. Zeenat believes that in “politics” her mother has been separated from her family. But by the end of this beautifully developed first novel, we understand that Cuban government politics is less about the rift than it is about the politics of navigating the world as women – women accepting cruelty Learn how to do it, how they survive it and when they themselves learn to use it. Garcia’s women clash with abusive partners and abusive countries, and both abandon them that they cannot escape.

Zeenat is the lively center of the book. When we meet her, she recovers from addiction to painkillers and barely breaks out of a bad relationship. Stepping in to take care of Ana, the daughter of a neighbor, Zeenat opens the door for some time to a different future, but like the prospect in her life, it becomes fleeting, showcasing some other version of herself. Which never gets made. Real. In a later chapter, we meet Zeenat as a teenager trying to make himself into adulthood, or at least one of the “tougher girls, cooler girls”, in a Miami nightclub. Through the promise of the big man’s invitation.

When she encounters sheer despair and shock rather than the imagined glamor of the night, Zeenat realizes the futility of the language, that it is unable to grasp the knowledge that what was happening will be the same as it was. She could hope, that she was disappointed. Once again there was no unexpected victory. This book is shaped by Garcia’s sharp prose and believing Zeenat’s potential, and believing that the unexpected is possible, even if it fails to materialize repeatedly.

[ Read an excerpt from “Of Women and Salt.” ]

The chapters are sufficiently self-contained that the novel has the rhythm of a linked story collection, a structure that effectively emphasizes the disconnects and breaks that have shaped these characters. The connections that survive do so in a compelling way. In an early chapter, the paternal lineage of Maria Isabel, the woman we meet, first gives copies of “Cecilia Valdes” and “Les Miserables”, which come to serve important personal and historical meanings. . These novels feel as if the objects the reader might expect will return at some point, and when they do, their re-appearance is satisfactorily complex.

A lesser author would have used the symbolic weight of the books to close some historical gaps or to heal family wounds. Instead, Gracia has the knowledge to illuminate books that cannot be recovered, no matter what is inherited. No one in the novel has retained the original story of the book. “They are just books,” Medellis, Zeenat’s cousin who was raised in Cuba, tells him. Meanwhile, Zeenat, who has arrived on the island in search of a renovation, cannot quite find it, recognizing the books as old and rare and tries to calculate their value, but has no clue. One of what to do with the words scattered in the margins. Later, when one of the books becomes a token of a new connection, it becomes immoral from its past, lost forever and still to be gained.

The portrayal of women in Zeenat and Carmen’s family is confident and layered, capturing their decency and failure. I found myself wishing the same depth about Ana and her mother, Gloria, Zeenat’s neighbor, a Salvadoran immigrant who has been detained in Texas, first without her, and then with her daughter, both of whom are in Mexico. before leaving. Placing characters in an unjust situation is a difficult task for a writer – if Ana and Gloria were anything less than innocent, their portrayal could be read as giving ammunition to those eager to protect the American immigration system is. Nevertheless, his innocence at times reduces his sufferings.

While Gloria waits for Ana to come to the detention facility, she maintains some mental space by focusing on the facts about the birds, first gathered at the facility from a children’s book, and then other detained from the books Women buy for him from lawyers and other visitors. When Gloria focuses on facts like “birds fly, even if it kills them,” it seems effective here, a way of breeding on the page is necessary to survive in the place where she and other women And children are insecure. Physical abuse and being incited to sign his right to a day in court.

Later chapters introduce my understanding of Gloria in a different context, but what we know about her life in El Salvador is simply trauma; We learn nothing about her time in the United States before her detention and very little about her life in Mexico after that. When Ana likes to go out dancing to her mother in Miami, I happily wanted to meet Gloria, who had some room for pleasure, a trait that only underscores her life’s impossible choices.

When we meet Ana, a teenager late in the book, she returns to Miami in search of Zeenat, and like her mother, she is nice and sweet and determined. In a moment of beautiful emotional gravity, Ana realizes that her childhood belief that Zeenat tried to save her from exile was a misunderstanding. Annie’s focus is on Zeenat’s novel. Although Garcia has thoughtfully mentioned ways of granting racial privileges and privileged immigration status to her white Cuban characters, the book refrains from echoing this privilege in Ana’s narrative arc, which is never her own life. Not completely located in the context of.

However, there is a satisfying grace in Ana’s return. At the beginning of the book, Zeenat thinks of Gloria: “Even the best mothers in the world can’t always save their daughters.” From its conclusion, “women and salt” suggest that although this may be true, it is also true that in the face of tragedy, even the most flawed mothers are able to help save someone else’s daughter. May occur.

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