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Ruins Paperback – March 1, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 16 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1994 Havana, times are hard: for maladroitly named Usnavy and his family, home is one windowless, sparsely furnished room, and rationing is so tight that pieces of a blanket... beaten and marinated in spices and a little beef broth pass for sandwich meat. When not managing the local bodega or playing dominoes with childhood friends, earnest Usnavy tries to keep his out-of-work wife and 14-year-old daughter from despair and disillusionment. His one treasure, as precious as his mother's legacy, is a most extraordinary lamp… of multicolor stained glass and shaped like an oversized dome. Around this lamp (a genuine Tiffany?), poet and novelist Obejas spins a mystery with political ramifications. Keeping within the tight frame of Usnavy's day-to-day life, Obejas confronts the ruin of Cuba; the fate of those who escape to the States, and those who remain; and broad issues of religious and sexual identity. With the deft and evocative detail of a poet's, Obejas's prose is as illuminating and honest as her struggling protagonist. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* A fatherless child named in honor of the big U.S. Navy ships in Guantánamo Bay, Usnavy, weary and destitute at 54 in 1994, still believes fervently in Cuba’s Communist mission even though his neighbors are fleeing to the U.S. under the cover of darkness on anything that will float. Usnavy works, navigates state bureaucracy, plays dominos in the square with his ribald buddies, and basks in the radiance of his only treasure, an opulent, Tiffany-like stained-glass lamp. A rare object of beauty, an embodiment of light and transcendence, it links humble and honest Usnavy to a hidden facet of Cuban history, and to the freer world of creativity and its shadow side of greed and desperation, deception and secret justice. Following the substantial Days of Awe (2001), prizewinning, ever-innovative Cuban American writer Obejas evinces a new, focused lyricism as she penetrates to the very heart of the Cuban paradox in a story as pared down and intense as its narrator’s life. Inlaid with images of transformation, this Havana story in the Hemingway mode illuminates the tragedies and resiliency of a twilight land caught in the spell of a failed dream and portrays with exquisite sensitivity a man reaching toward the light. --Donna Seaman

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