Title: The Mortifications
Author: Derek Palacio
Publisher: Tim Duggan Books
Page Count: 320
Publication Date: 2016
Category/Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Cultural
Good Reads Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.22)
My Rating: ★★★★☆(3.8)
Derek Palacio’s stunning, mythic novel marks the arrival of a fresh voice and a new chapter in the history of 21st century Cuban-American literature.
In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.
Each struggles and flourishes in their own way: Isabel, spiritually hungry and desperate for higher purpose, finds herself tethered to death and the dying in uncanny ways. Ulises is bookish and awkwardly tall, like his father, whose memory haunts and shapes the boy’s thoughts and desires. Presiding over them both is Soledad. Once consumed by her love for her husband, she begins a tempestuous new relationship with a Dutch tobacco farmer. But just as the Encarnacións begin to cultivate their strange new way of life, Cuba calls them back. Uxbal is alive, and waiting.
Breathtaking, soulful, and profound, The Mortifications is an intoxicating family saga and a timely, urgent expression of longing for one’s true homeland.
For my 2020 Reading Challenge, a month that was about further exploring the Hispanic or Latinx community, I chose a book called “The Mortifications” by Drek Palacio because living in Miami for some time I wanted to learn and hear more about the plight of Cubans and their stories of emigration.
The novel explores the counter-revolution in Cuba, a failing economy, the Mariel boatlift in the 1980s and is filled with images and religious mysticism found in Cuban culture. The main story revolves around a splintered Cuban family who tries to leave behind more than just their past in Cuba and start life over in Connecticut.
Palacio did a beautiful job showing how there can be both intense family bonds and loneliness at the same time. It dives into life and death and the various ways that each of those can be embraced. His prose was lyrical, often it felt as if I was being sung to by the sirens, pulling me deeper and deeper into the very troubled and jagged psyche’s and spirit of the characters.
The pull of home and family, no matter how broken or dysfunctional, was a clear theme in this book, which I was able to identify with living thousands of miles away from my family. Despite all of the turmoil or flaws, the anger and disappointment, some things are just etched on your heart and can haunt you however far you flee internally and externally.
I was definitely more hooked on the gorgeous prose and the themes than the plot itself which I found to be slightly flawed at times and disjointed at others.