PRINCESS PAPAYA

Himilce Novas
Houston: Arte Press, 2004
ISBN # 1-55885-436-3.
212 pages.

Comments by Bob Corbett
January 2011

This gripping and brilliant novel has a large cast of characters, one more interesting and bizarre than the next. There is Roberto Lobo, Cuban born obstetrician living in New York City and running an abortion clinic for the rich and famous who want very private abortions. His some-time love, Princess Papaya of the title, is a Santeria priestess. Their deaf-mute hydrocephalic son, Bembe has special occult talents. There is Robertoís poet sister, Victoria, whose husband was killed on 9/11 and who, as part of her recovery, is in an internet relationship with a mysterious man named Cooper, who turns out to be one of the most interesting characters in the novel. There is David, the oldest son in Roberto and Victoriaís family, languishing in a Cuban prison after he was captured trying to free a Rabbi held by Castro. The novel has a fanatical Cuban spiritualist, a native American with some ties to that culture, and the Lobo family of Cuban Jews.

Itís a bit overwhelming, but a fantastic story. It is full of the unexpected and unusual.

I loved the book, was gripped by it and for much of the first third to half the novel, thinking this might be one of the best novels Iíd ever read. But, while I ended up loving it, it reminded me of cooking a huge pot of soup, and itís smelling so good, and getting better by the minute, but the chef gets a bit carried away, adding a few too many spices, turns up the fire a bit too high and it eventually bubbles over the top, dramatically messing up the kitchen and diminishing the soup a bit along the way. The novel seemed in the last third, especially, to do this and to go just a bit too far.

However, there was one novelistic strategy that Novas uses that I thought worked perfectly as she crafted it. There are 15 chapters. In many of them we are just right back into the story of the past chapters, but advanced a good deal in the plot and time. We readers can sort of pick it up, but we are getting important bits of the plot slipped to us by what the characters are mentioning happened a week ago, or month, and that we hadnít known. I was quite taken with that manner of presenting the story and it worked completely for me though the whole novel.

Another section than spans 4 or 5 chapters is the growing relationship between Victoria and Cooper, all carried on by e-mail chat. These were the days before Facebook and such, and Victoria isnít even ready for chat lines. Himilce Novas handles these conversations convincingly and with art.

Alas, it is a story where virtually nothing of the plot should be told. Nearly any details are plot spoilers. The potential reader can be assured you will meet very exotic and interesting characters, there will be wonderful dialogue of intelligence and humor. There is suspense, curiosity and worry galore. Especially in the middle and later sections there is action that will make your hair stand.

And always there is sex, sex and more sex, most of it very beautiful and touching, embedded in both very loving relationships and some that are less so.

The soup pot may bubble over, and it might be just a bit too spicy, none the less this literary pot of soup is well worth cleaning up that kitchen, and sipping a bit of ice water to diminish the excess spice.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu