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Days of Awe

by Achy Obejas

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1193173,591 (3.38)9
On New Year's Day 1959, as Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, Alejandra San José was born in Havana, entering the world through the heart of revolution. Fearing the conflict and strife that bubbled up in the streets all around the new family, her parents took Ale and fled to the free shores of America. Ale grew up in Chicago amid a close community of refugees who lived with the hope that one day Castro would fall and they could return to their Cuban homes. Though Ale was intrigued by the specter of Havana that colored her life as a child, her fascination eventually faded in her teens until all that remained was her profound respect for the intricacies of the Spanish language and the beautiful work her father did as a linguist and translator. When her own job as an interpreter takes her back to Cuba, Ale is initially unmoved at the import of her return-- until she stumbles upon a surprising truth: the San Josés, ostensibly Catholics, are actually Jews. They are conversos who converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition. Enlightened by a whole new vision of her past and her culture, Ale makes her way back through San José history, uncovering new fragments of truth about the relatives who struggled with their own identities so long ago. Ale is finally lured back to Cuba to make amends with the ancestral demons still lurking there--to translate her father's troubling youthful experiences into the healing language of her Cuban American heart. In beautiful, knowing prose, Achy Obejas opens up a fascinating world of exotic wordplay, rich history, and vibrant emotions. As Alejandra struggles to confront what it is to be Cuban and American, Catholic and Jewish, Obejas illuminates her journey and the tempestuous history of Cuba with intelligence and affection. Days of Awe is a lyrical and lovely novel from an author destined for literary renown.… (more)

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I thought the subject matter of this book would grab me - I have been on a Spanish Inquisition kick lately. As I was reading I was convinced it was a memoir and kept forgiving the author her tangents, off topic threads, unbelievable coincidences, and highly unlikely episodes- after all it was a memoir right? Except that it isn't a memoir, and so the inconsistencies and other odd occurrences, random historical mentions, just annoyed me! I also was put off by the brief, tossed off mentions of important and/or interesting details - especially those relating to santeria, palo monte, the prenda judia. There is a glossary at the back, but there were mentions of these practices that were jarring and no explanation was offered.

Most of the characters were not well developed and their actions were often reprehensible without rational. The main character was someone I found unpleasant, selfish and annoying. Such a shame - this should have been an interesting book about a small group about which little is known. ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
If the main character hadn't been so self-absorbed and whiny, I think I would have enjoyed the story more. The conflict between being Cuban and Jewish would have been made so much stronger without the shallow characters and random, almost forced, sex scenes. There are so many better writings exploring the competing forces of cultural identity. ( )
  MichelleCH | Apr 5, 2013 |
Story of San Jose's conversos in Cuba
  Folkshul | Jan 15, 2011 |
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On New Year's Day 1959, as Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, Alejandra San José was born in Havana, entering the world through the heart of revolution. Fearing the conflict and strife that bubbled up in the streets all around the new family, her parents took Ale and fled to the free shores of America. Ale grew up in Chicago amid a close community of refugees who lived with the hope that one day Castro would fall and they could return to their Cuban homes. Though Ale was intrigued by the specter of Havana that colored her life as a child, her fascination eventually faded in her teens until all that remained was her profound respect for the intricacies of the Spanish language and the beautiful work her father did as a linguist and translator. When her own job as an interpreter takes her back to Cuba, Ale is initially unmoved at the import of her return-- until she stumbles upon a surprising truth: the San Josés, ostensibly Catholics, are actually Jews. They are conversos who converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition. Enlightened by a whole new vision of her past and her culture, Ale makes her way back through San José history, uncovering new fragments of truth about the relatives who struggled with their own identities so long ago. Ale is finally lured back to Cuba to make amends with the ancestral demons still lurking there--to translate her father's troubling youthful experiences into the healing language of her Cuban American heart. In beautiful, knowing prose, Achy Obejas opens up a fascinating world of exotic wordplay, rich history, and vibrant emotions. As Alejandra struggles to confront what it is to be Cuban and American, Catholic and Jewish, Obejas illuminates her journey and the tempestuous history of Cuba with intelligence and affection. Days of Awe is a lyrical and lovely novel from an author destined for literary renown.

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