It takes a lot of courage to write about something tragic that has changed your life, especially something out of your control. We are so personally invested that too often we get carried away and our writing suffers. Filled with longing and sorrow and hate, we let those feelings become the story; focusing so much on them that we forget that the reader may not feel the same way. Their realities are different, their past is not our past, and they are not burdened by our prejudices – real or imagined.
I bring this up because “Luz” takes place in Cuba, a place about which everybody in the hemisphere has a well-defined opinion. For those of us who believe in freedom, we know it for the tragic totalitarianism that has enslaved successive generations; an ashen timeless oppression seemingly without end. Conversely for those who love authority, Cuba is the shining example of how to ‘get away with it’.
“Luz” was written by Luis Gonzalez. According to his Amazon bio, “Luis Gonzalez was born in Havana, Cuba, where he spent the first seven years of his life. His widowed mother of three fled the Communist State, kids in tow, and he found himself next in the Los Angeles enclave of Culver City, California. Though he quickly assimilated into his new country and culture, and had no trouble mastering his new language, Cuba never left him.”
With such a description – and all that remains unsaid – I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of hate in the novel. Having been forced to flee his homeland at such an early age must have marked him deeply; but Luis has chosen to write about his lost homeland from a heart made tender by the forgiveness brought by newfound faith. In doing this he does not give a pass to the dictatorship; instead quietly and without hyperbole highlighting the suffering as only somebody who experienced firsthand the challenges and travails of living in a closed country can. For me the descriptions of the effects of nutritional deficiencies in the population during Cuba’s ‘special period’ were particularly heart wrenching, as the Castro brothers slowly starved their people.
The plot is internal, as all literary fiction should be. Clara, the story’s main character, is forced to confront the most challenging of circumstances from a position of extreme vulnerability. A single, poor Cuban girl living in a back room of her worn-out old family home on the outskirts of Havana will have to decide what to make of the most monumental of all revelations – and requests. I won’t give away any of the story line, that would be unfair. What I will say is you will be surprised – as I was – by the way parts of the story unfold. Some of it worked for me. As a novelist, there is some of it I would have written differently. But I didn’t write it – Luis did. His first novel is the product of his discovery of faith and freedom juxtaposed against the chilling pall of dictatorship. I will also tell you that this is only the first book in a series, and you should not expect a completed story. I would guess that the author’s personal journey has not yet told him how it should end.
I particularly enjoyed the parts about life lived in the search for meaning under the imposed authority of a dictator. Those types of stories always intrigue and inspire me; how people find their own humanity and fulfillment in the face of those who would turn them into slaves.
Read this book – you will be better for it.
Joel D. Hirst is a novelist, author of “The Lieutenant of San Porfirio” and its Spanish version “El Teniente de San Porfirio”; as well as the upcoming sequel “The Burning of San Porfirio”.
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