Showing posts with label Mia Leonin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mia Leonin. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: Havana and Other Missing Fathers by Mia Leonin

This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

The book I chose to read for this campaign is printed on acid-free archival-quality paper containing a minimum of 30%  post-consumer waste (or recycled materials) and processed chlorine free.

Havana and Other Missing Fathers by Mia Leonin

Havana and Other Missing Fathers by Mia Leonin is a memoir published in 2009 by The University of Arizona Press as part of their Camino del Sol: A Latino and Latina Literary Series. I already own a few issues from the Camino del Sol series and when I decided to join this campaign and saw that this book was available, I couldn't pass it up.

In 1967, Norma drives away from her home in Kentucky and makes her way to Missouri to give birth and begin a new life. Sixteen years later that child, a daughter, learns that her life thus far has been based on a lie. Norma breaks down and tells her child that her father is not dead; indeed he's not her first husband Jerry, but a Cuban doctor -- a foreigner -- who is very much alive. Mother and daughter cry, wash their faces and go for ice cream.

Four years later at age 20, Mia lands in Miami Airport for the first time to meet her father hoping to find a place in his life, to understand the man and in the process parts of herself. She shares moments but no real intimacy with him, and his wife Zoraida seems to be too surprised at Mia's unexpected existence to show her true feelings. Unfortunately after that first meeting, she comes away with more questions than answers about the man, the father and a new culture that she's about to embrace.

Mia, on her father and language:
My father didn't give me explanations, apologies, or answers. He didn't "take responsibility" in any concrete way. He broke off language like pieces of hard candy that caught the light before dissolving in my mouth.
Even after a few years Mia's attempts to know and understand her father elude her, as the immutable Zoraida's resentment grows and prevents Mia from reaching him:
"Mi papa," I venture, "No lo conozco."
Conocer. The verb hangs in the air like the steel blade of a guillotine. Conocer means to meet and to know. Yes, I've met him, but no, I don't know him. How do I join the meeting and the not knowing of my father in one verb? It's more than a grammatical question.
This need for understanding and acceptance gives Mia the necessary impetus to go forth on a personal journey that will take her from Missouri to Miami, Florida to Bogotá, Colombia and eventually Havana, Cuba. Instead of searching for her roots, she finds herself in Havana exploring Cuban culture through the unique joys and sufferings of its people, their compulsive and sensual obsession with food, and the unique rhythms of its music and language. She falls in love with a man and the island's passions as she experiences highs and lows, glorious moments and betrayals, clarity, uncertainty and anguish along the way.
I thought I was just going to come here and "discover" my heritage or somehow feel connected to it, but this island doesn't merely give, it exacts a price for what you take from it. Not flowers or offerings of fruit, but flesh, memory, balance.
Ms. Leonin successfully uses a combination of dialogue and narrative to tell her story. Havana and Other Missing Fathers is a memoir, but it reads more like a novel with poetic overtones. The narrative switches from present to past in a flowing manner with few narrative interruptions as the story unfolds to its conclusion of partial resolutions and personal revelations.  The author writes in a lyrical style and uses language as the core to keep the reader engrossed and focused in the story. While the book is written in English, Ms. Leonin is particularly successful in the effective adaptation of Cuban Spanish, as she applies its unique rhythms, oblique meanings and double entendres to her exploration of roots and culture, both here and there.

Finally, I'll say that this book was an unexpected pleasure. Havana and Other Missing Fathers turned out to be a very personal and forthright journey where no one is spared, least of all the author. She captures the dichotomies in Cuban culture: intricacies and subtleties, beauty and unpleasantness, strengths and weaknesses. I connected with this story and was right there on that roller coaster ride of self-discovery and emotional upheaval with Mia. That's the highest recommendation I can give this book.

Category: Memoir
Series: Camino del Sol: A Latino and Latina Literary Series
Released: September 1, 2009
Source: Eco-Libris & The University of Arizona Press
Grade: B+

Visit Mia Leonin here.