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A Cuban Summer Paperback – September 2, 2013
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There is sex with prostitutes, some more appealing to Tony than others, and there are dates with exciting American girls who will kiss and make out a little. Then there are Cuban girls, who don't go on dates without a chaperone. Tony is all for the American way, yet his ultimate goal and probable future is to meet a Cuban girl about his age, go to monitored dances, perhaps kiss a few times, then marry the girl and stay married forever. This is the charm of the book, to see the world of romance and sex through the eyes of someone restrained by a complex set of rules, all of which he questions.
Here's how it works with his partner on the dance floor: "He could try to get Carmen to dance closer by applying a small amount of pressure with his right arm, drawing her towards him, but this would only be met by an equal and opposite force. Newtonian physics, Cuban style."
It's a graceful book that often had me laughing, and that swept me back to my own boyhood. To this day, the sexual drive of young boys is rarely looked upon with any favor. But we were all subject to it, and all had to work out our own accommodations. Tony de la Torre, by American standards, is a precocious boy, but he has little guile and less cruelty. From start to finish, we're rooting for him.
(One unfortunate note: Capra Press has done a shaky job with this admirable little book. The printing on several even-numbered pages is faded on one side, and there are too many typos. On one page the desserts are flans, on another they're flanes. On one page it's Cris-Craft, and five pages later it's Chris Craft. Is it Benny More, or is Benny Moré correct? It's Moré, and we need a copy editor.)
Tony is no ordinary lad: his family is wealthy and he's been raised by servants with the trappings of inherited luxury. So when Tony's coming of age coincides with the many social and political changes affecting Cuba's place in the world, the forces affecting both Tony and pre-Castro Cuba are brought to the foreground in a novel replete with social and sexual tension and growth.
One wouldn't expect to have a humorous overtone running through a story which embraces so many personal and political changes, but in fact A Cuban Summer uses such humor as a binding force to capture the spirit and lively peoples of the land, and this is one of the features that makes this novel so endearing.
Another notable feature: by choosing an adolescent boy's viewpoint, the changes brought about by social and personal forces come neatly together in a perspective that can be readily understood by Cubans as well as those with little prior familiarity with the country's peoples and politics.
From family and religious roles to the increasing intrusion of politics into personal and public affairs, A Cuban Summer neatly captures the atmosphere of a very Catholic, very well- defined society which stands on the brink of revolutionary changes.
Tony Mendoza's storytelling ability is only equaled by his ability to capture a teen's evolving emotions: "The young woman who ran that coffee machine was as attractive as a movie star, in Tony's opinion. He often went to the coffee stand after school and asked her for a cortadito, a small cup of espresso. What he especially liked about her was how she always referred to her clients as mi amor, or mi vida, my life. She seemed to be on intimate terms with everyone. When Tony ordered his cortadito she often said: como estás, mi amorcito? How are you, my little love? It was worth getting a cup of coffee at that stand just to hear her say that."
Tony's blossoming feelings for young Carmen (and other girls) and his assessments of how to enter into a "proper Cuban courtship", his evolving awareness of philosophy and ecological and world relationships, and his eventual realization that Cuba lives in his soul as much as he spends time on its soil makes for a blossoming saga of a summer during which everything - even his relationship with Cuba - will change.
In the end you have a bittersweet, gentle novel steeped in old-world Cuban culture and sentiments that provides readers with a lovely snapshot of old world values in flux. When his changing, evolving and terrific summer is over, Tony will find himself in a new place: one in which his own presence in the old world has become a memory of the past.
D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer, MBR
Unconcerned by the strictures of school, religion, or parental rules, all to bend in his favor. There is a decidedly Spanish Main swashbuckler-in-training flavor to most of Tony's adolescent pranks. And those which might backfire are easily skirted or squirmed out of. After all, most everything is done and taken lightly: a sensitive young soul hemmed in by rules wafted off by breezes of permissiveness. Elders and servants conveniently stand by to expedite, even unwittingly, the tasting of experience, more often than not, sexual. Tarts, strumpets, whores, and harlots come by and go away, casually enough that lasting traces merely wash off, all soon forgotten.
Then love, with more purchase on the imagination, engages his soul in seeking answers for his eager heart. But there are always pending questions, sublimated desires, and faded dreams, The answers cannot be found at the confessional, leaving an enraged priest to scream his fury at the haphazard doings of the adolescent.
Boleros on the beach tell us how pain can be assuaged by distance. And as young hearts pursue their rites of passage aftermaths, a window opens into the future, that hope can spring eternal yet again.