In Nelly Rosario's beautifully written family saga Song of the Water Saints
, Graciela, an unwilling mother and a halfhearted wife, spends her days imagining sea voyages and tracing shapes in the clouds. She is so restless, yet so trapped in Dominican village life, that she wakes at night to rub camphor oil into her itching feet. Finally, a fortuneteller advises her to "stop living between nostalgia and hope." It is up to Graciela's daughter and her children to make use of the freedoms that eluded Graciela, whose life was shaped not only by poverty but also by the brutal U.S. military occupation of the Dominican Republic, the brief flowering of a belle époque in the 1920s, and the 30-year military dictatorship of Trujillo. With an almost painterly attention to foreground and background, Rosario stresses the importance of these events without letting them overshadow her richly imagined world. Song of the Water Saints
is an unusually assured debut from a promising writer. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
Four generations of Dominican woman are poetically evoked in this impressively assured first novel. The vibrant, superstitious culture of the Dominican Republic enlivens a tale that favors style over plot. As a restless young woman, Graciela is photographed in a compromising position with her first love by a yanqui man; though she marries the boy, Silvio, he never quite commits to her and, after he dies barely two years later, she never really gets over him. Her new man, Casimiro steady and a good father to her difficult daughter, Mercedes still cannot tame her. Her restlessness makes Graciela leave her little family; guilt and loneliness cause her to return after six weeks, but with a problem that ultimately ends her life. Teenaged Mercedes takes over the local grocery and marries Andres, a green-eyed dwarf. Decades fly by, and Mercedes and Andres follow the dream of a better life in the U.S. with their son and granddaughter. Though the language is gorgeous and the setting vividly rendered, the story suffers from a lack of direction and, after Graciela's death, character development is all but abandoned in the rushed final third of the book. The complex politics of the island are addressed, but only perfunctorily. Rosario has the potential to become a major novelist; she's one to watch, and this work is worthwhile for the voluptuous images alone. (Mar.)Forecast: Junot D¡az, Cristina Garcia, Julia Alvarez and Edwidge Danticat supply blurbs, and Rosario was named a Village Voice "Writer on the Verge." All of that will help sales, along with national print and radio features and a six-city author tour.
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