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The Mortifications: A Novel by Derek Palacio
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The Mortifications: A Novel

by Derek Palacio

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    The Patriots by Sana Krasikov (Limelite)
    Limelite: Families in both novels flee, then return to communist regimes, trying to find their identity and place in life.
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
rom the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Cuban Missile Crisis, from the Mariel Boatlift to Elian Gonzalez, from diplomatic ties cut off to ties renewed, Cuba has long loomed large in the American imagination. Cuba lies just 103 miles off the Florida Coast and until travel between the two countries became possible again, every year there were news reports of people risking their lives to make that crossing, to land in the US and the Cuban expat and Cuban-American community in Miami is a large, vibrant, and thriving one. But not all Cuban immigrants ended up in Miami; some went much farther afield. In Derek Palacio's novel The Mortifications, the Encarnacion family, mother Soledad, and twins Isabel and Ulises flee their country in the Mariel Boatlift, leaving behind father and political rebel Uxbal as they work their way north to the city of Hartford, Connecticut.

The family settles into life in the US, unable to truly leave behind their memories of Cuba and Uxbal. Each of the characters is haunted by the past even as they grow and change in the present. Soledad meets Willems, a Dutch tobacco farmer, who becomes her lover. Isabel, nicknamed the Death Torch in her community, finds a strange connection to death, helping the dying to the other side, and eventually goes deep into the religion of her father. The bookish Ulises grows to gigantic proportions and almost inhuman strength as he helps Willems nurture tobacco in the unlikely soil of Connecticut. Years into the family's exile, a letter arrives from Uxbal and each of the three Encarnacions is pulled by the Cuban past none of them has ever broken free of.

The novel is a complex and philosophical character study and the third person narration moves focus from Soledad to Isabel to Ulises allowing the reader insight into each of these unusual characters. The characters all suffer their own mortifications, sacrifices that mark them indelibly. This is not magical realism but it is certainly in that tradition; it has a Catholic sensibility with a mythical feel to it. Palacio has captured the loneliness and longing of each of the characters, their reaching for a connection, for home, and for family that has never been completely forgotten. Each of them is desperately seeking a happiness that eludes them, their melancholy burrowing deep in their flesh and bones. The writing is well done but somehow the story feels flattened and the reading of it is slow and deliberate. There are no quotation marks around dialogue here, causing speech to run into thought and vice versa. Because of the strange ponderousness of the tale, this is really only suited for big fans of literary fiction. ( )
  whitreidtan | Jul 5, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I've been putting off this review for months, because while I'm grateful to have received a copy from the Early Reviewers program, I've been unable to make it further than 50 pages into this book. And I tried three times. Palacio's flat writng style, as well as the closeness/distance he chose for his characters, felt so bland and uninteresting. I'm usually someone who, at worst, doesn't mind books that don't use quotation marks for their dialogue, and I often love that technique (it was used so well in Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, for example!), but here, it only served as a droning flatness to the prose that I didn't find appealing, and to my frustration, I couldn't figure out how to appreciate either the technique specifically or Palacio's writing style in general.
1 vote mixedmetaphors | Jun 20, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is the second book I've read about Cubans and it's just as utterly boring as the other (My Lost Cuba was the title). I wish I could find one that actually appeals to me as I know very little about Cuba.

I wish I'd known *beforehand* that there were no quotation marks around any of the dialogue. It makes the whole thing confusing and flat, although it's not as confusing in this book as it has been in some other novels. Maybe it's supposed to make books seem more artsy-fartsy but to me it just comes off as merely a lazy move by authors.

Other than that, I don't buy these characters or their situations. They seem to be too aware of certain things at times and at other times just stilted and strange. Maybe if the story had been handled by a different writer who could actually bring it all to life, I could have stuck with it. I had to call a DNF around 20% in. Not for me. ( )
  cosiari | Jun 6, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book as an early reviewer, and while I liked it (about 100 pages in), I couldn't finish it. I plan on trying again soon and will review it then. ( )
1 vote keafrost | Apr 25, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm afraid this was just too much for me. Too ponderous, too sad, and (for me) an unrealistic amount of self-examination by every single character. I was not disturbed by the images or the graphic language, but like a review below, I finished because I'd committed to but did not enjoy the process. ( )
1 vote bfolds | Apr 10, 2017 |
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