It's 1960, and 65-year-old Camila Ureña decides to join the New World. Castro's new world, that is, which she has been following on the news with a heated excitement she hasn't felt for years. Forced into early retirement from her 20-year post as a Spanish teacher among the perky white girls of Vassar College, Camila faces a choice: whether to move to Florida and live down the block from her best friend or to fly over Florida and into Havana where her brothers live--and thereby land in a place of upheaval and hungry ghosts. The hungriest ghost of all is Camila's mother, Salomé Ureña, whose poems became inspirational anthems for a short-lived revolution in the late-19th-century Dominican Republic.
Based in fact, In the Name of Salomé alternates between Camila's story and her mother's. Camila's chapters are written in the third person, Salomé's in the first. By calling Camila "she," Alvarez alienates her within the text--as if in her attic at Vassar she is floating outside herself in an America that does not belong to her. In contrast, Salomé's chapters vibrate with life and tears and melodrama. Through the alternating voices, which Alvarez handles masterfully, the reader comes to grasp Camila's longing for the color and music of her mother's lost world--how the meek daughter wishes "she" could become the "I" of her mother's revolutionary and passionate life as a poet, which began under a pseudonym, Herminia, in a local political paper:
Each time there was a new poem by Herminia in the paper, Mamá would close the front shutters of the house and read it in a whisper to the rest of us. She was delighted with the brave Herminia. I felt guilty keeping this secret from her, but I knew if I told her, all her joy would turn to worry.
Yet for Salomé, her pseudonym allows her to become the voice of a country, "and with every link she cracked open for la patria, she was also setting me free." --Emily White
From Publishers Weekly
The Dominican Republic's most famous poet and her daughter, a professor in the United States, are the remarkable protagonists of this lyrical work, one of the most moving political novels of the past half century. Camila Henr!quez Ure$a is introduced as an "eminent Hispanicist, a woman with two doctorates [and] a tenured chair" at Vassar. She is also the exiled daughter of both renowned Dominican poet Salom Ure$a and the country's last democratically elected president. Born in 1850, Salom called a revolution into being with her fearless poetry. Even as an adolescent, she saw her pseudonymous poems inspire bloodshed in the streets. Camila, born in 1894, followed the fortunes of her famous family into exile, first in Cuba, then on her own in the U.S., where she became an academic's academic. Alvarez, who has written more than once about women in exile (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) and women revolutionaries (In the Time of the Butterflies), and who is herself a poet, academic and exile, has found in Salom and Camila Ure$a her best topic yet. The novel's protagonists are based on real characters, yet by offering history through the lenses of both the poet and the scholar, as well as by portraying male-dominated events from the perspective of female activists, Alvarez conveys purely Latin American revolutionary idealism with an intellectual sensuality that eschews magical realism. The narrative flows freely across timeDHavana in 1935; Minnesota in 1918; Washington, D.C., in 1923; Santa Domingo in the mid to late 19th century; Poughkeepsie in the 1950sDand is punctuated with letters and poetry. While Salom is the flame that heats this cauldron, Camila tends the fire.When she retires from teaching in 1960, she must choose a meaningful conclusion to her life. Her long-time love, Marion, though recently married, invites her to live nearby in Florida. But born and bred to revolution, Camila has been too long away from the fray. It is not giving away anything to say that she spends the next 13 years in Cuba, heeding the old call to create "Jos Mart!'s America Now." $50,000 ad/promo; 22-city author tour. (June)
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