By Cristina Garcia.
209 pages
New York: Schribner, 2010
ISBN # 978-1-4391-8174-4

Comments of Bob Corbett
June 2011

It is early in hurricane season in an unnamed South American nation. A group are gathered at the expensive Hotel Miraflor, all for different reasons, not knowing one another.

The central character of the novel is Suki Palacios, a lady bullfighter who is also stunningly beautiful, haughty and elegant. Her father had been a bullfighter as well, but was injured badly and his career ended early.

Aura Estrada is an attractive older waitress, a former guerrilla who is filled with hate at the brutality of the military. Her brother was murdered in the uprising yet still visits with his sister in this slight hint of magical realism which Garcia brings to her novel. He is seeking revenge on the colonel who murdered him.

Won Kim has lived in this country for 12 years, running a family factory. He is a Korean, aged 39 and currently at the hotel because his very young mistress is about to deliver their baby. Kim constantly thinks about suicide, but just doesn’t have the courage.

“Death is the ultimate solution to everything, he thinks, the most elegant. People linger much too long uselessly in life, bellowing over insignificances. The loveliest things in the world are the most fleeting. Blooming cherry trees. The twilight hour. Rare butterflies that live no longer than a day.”

The Morans, Ricardo, a Cuban poet who lives in the U.S. and his wife, Sarah, rich, spoiled, and bad tempered, are at the hotel to pick up a baby they are “buying”.

Colonel Martin Abel is a guest in the hotel, but this is his own country. He is at the hotel for a meeting of military people. He was one of the major murderers and torturers during the recent uprising, and the man who murdered Aura’s brother.

All the characters are at the hotel, and initially unknown to each other. However, their lives begin to intertwine in different manners and degrees.

There is another central character who does not live at the hotel, Gertrudis Stuber, a medical doctor and lawyer, who runs the baby mill from which the Morans are buying their baby.

We follow the lives of these people, how and why they came to the hotel and some of the interactions they have while there. The writing is simply gripping. Cristina Garcia lays bear the inner being of each of these characters, some whom we might like and admire, some we might well dislike and others we might simply pity. But Garcia makes them live, and we get inside them enough that we simply can’t ignore them. She forces us to engage with them.

I was quite fascinated with the baby mill part of the story. The well-dressed, very organized and intelligent woman who runs this system at first seems to believe in her own work, but soon we are inside a most disturbing business.

The costs of operating what Gertrudis privately calls her "export" business are mounting. There are the breeder mothers to take care of (her biggest expense at a thousand dollars per pregnancy). The stud services of a few select men. The fees of the increasingly finicky caretaker families. Supplies of baby formula, clothes, and disposable diapers (nobody wants to wash cloth ones anymore). Medical and hospital expenses. A phalanx of judges and politicians paid to look the other way. The lobbyists' ever-swelling salaries. The upkeep of her fancy offices downtown. A percentage to her co-agents in the United States. Skyrocketing website and Internet advertising costs.

Her price for a healthy newborn: thirty thousand U.S. dollars.

On the plus side are the kickbacks Gertrudis gets from requiring her clients to stay at the most expensive hotel in the capital. Her arrangement with the Miraflor's general director is mutually lucrative.

At the end of each chapter there is the new of the day from television, radio and newspapers. In the earlier part of the chapter we’ve been taken deeply into the inner being of these characters. Now we are taken back to a more generalized world, a world where we only know the surface and not the depth of the people spoken of and Garcia give us the news of elections / feminist radio / weather / astrology / stars and such typical things we hear in the news day.

It was a brilliant choice to do this. When we back off and only see the stereotypical in the names in the news, we realize that we are hearing stories which might well match the news (and it actually does in the case of the woman matador). Yet in the news it is not all charged with such deep emotional content as when we deal with the characters in such emotional depth.

This is the second novel of Cristina Garcia which I have read. In 2002 I commented on her DREAMING IN CUBAN. I now intend to get her other novels as well. She is a delightful author to read. Interesting, challenging, creative with great attention to detail.

Bob Corbett

Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett