Himilce Novas
NY: Riverhead Books, 1996
ISBN # 1-57322-613-0.
159 pages.

Comments by Bob Corbett
October 2005

Himilce Novas presents a daring and beautiful story which employs the style of magic realism yet embraces values which will startle and trouble many readers. However, this reader was neither startled nor troubled. Rather, I relished her boldness and sympathetic insights. An additional gift was the wrapping of careful, touching and economic language in which the tale was offered.

As the Cuban Revolution is about to descend into Havana, Arnaldo Saavedar gets Protestant fundamentalist religion and becomes not only a devout Christian but a magical healer.

In a local epidemic he not only saves Patricia, the plantation owner’s daughter, but the two become secret lovers and she gets pregnant. As her daughter Esmarelda is born her father is planning to have Arnaldo killed. In a bold reversal, he steals the new born infant and flies to the U.S.

Arnaldo is devastated by the loss of Patricia who dies in that childbirth and loses his magical powers, but becomes a successful Pentecostal preacher in the slums of Manhattan.

He never stops dreaming of his lost Patricia and soon substitutes his tiny daughter for Patricia in every way. In the face of their nightly sexual episodes Esmeralda develops much of her father’s former mystical ways and dreams especially of butterflies and magical escapes yet both loves and pities her father.

However, on that fateful night of December 31, 1959 when Castro entered Havana and Patricia gave birth to Esmeralda, before she died she gave birth to a twin son, Juan, whom Arnaldo, and therefore Esmeralda, know nothing about.

Brother and sister are mirror twins, neither knowing of the other’s existence, yet both yearning to be fulfilled, each needing the opposite gender side of him or herself. They are drawn to each other, not knowing each’s true identity as fate plays out this story.

What is so daring and brilliant in Novas' treatment is her gentle but firm value neutrality to so many things society disdains:

Yet Novas is squarely with the tradition of magical realism as Juan is somehow transported to New York from Miami and given the address of Esmarelda’s father’s church so that the twins can meet. And all three key characters, Arnaldo, Esmeralda, and Juan are people of deep spiritual insight and magical powers.

The political plays almost humorously at the edges. The twins are born the night Castro entered Havana. Arnaldo ministers to refugee Latin Americans and provides them with a better life. Yet Novas can’t resist a little slap that wakes us to the reality of so many of those refugees:

Most were Puerto Rican and Colombian immigrants and many have been delivered from the grip of drugs and alcohol by Arnaldo’s laying-on of hands but as yet not from the claws of illiteracy and want.

This is a novel not to be missed. Novas gives us insights into consciousness most of us are not used to and more importantly, challenges us to the root humanness of some of the startling basic urges of humans which she presents and accepts as she does the sunshine and the rain.

Bob Corbett


Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett