Thursday, September 16, 2010

book review: Loving Che by Ana Menendez

Loving Che: A NovelThe backstory: I so enjoyed reading Ana Menendez's most recent novel, The Last War (my review), I was eager to read her first novel, Loving Che. Menendez also wrote a collection of short stories entitled In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd.

The basics: Loving Che takes place in contemporary Miami, as a young woman longs to uncover her past. Once she receives a package of letters and photographs, the narrative shifts to her mother's voice recalling the years of the Cuban Revolution and her love affair with Che Guevera. Then, the narrative shifts back to modern day as the unnamed narrator seeks to use the clues from letters and photographs to fill in the details of her life.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of historical fiction featuring real people, and Che Guevera is someone I've been fascinated with quietly  for years. Loving Che is a unique piece of historical fiction. It's events are intricately linked to actual events in the very public life of Che Guevera and the Cuban revolution, but the links come in broad strokes more often than details. There's also a mysterious element to the novel as our narrator seeks answers to her questions about identity. My favorite part of the novel was its last third. It was a fascinating journey, and I couldn't help but think of A. Manette Ansay's fabulous Good Things I Wish You (my review), where the lines between fiction, research, and memoir became blurred into a lovely piece of metafiction. I don't know how much Menendez's journey to research this novel mimicked itself in the narrator's research of her life, but it was quite fascinating to read about. At times, this novel veered into romance:
"The first kiss is more intimate than the naked bed; it's small perimeter already contains the first submission and the final betrayal." (p. 91)
At times, it was both romantic and wise:
"I wonder now if people don't make up their reasons for deception after the fact. And that what truly leads us into the arms of another lies beyond our comprehension." (p. 93)
There are so many beautiful truths in this novel:
"But death to me is more a regret, not a fear. Fear is one of the things that make us value life. But how can you fear the inevitable? It would be like fearing the dawn." (p. 112)
There were a few moments that felt uneven in this novel. Because I read The Last War first, I was willing to forgive some first novel pacing issues. The depth of the ending surprised me; I had written off this novel as simple and sweet despite my enjoyment of Menendez's writing. I was moved to tears and quite pondering by the novel's last pages, and I think it will haunt me for quite some time.

The verdict: A lyrical tale of love, revolution, life, identity and the power of the unknown. Recommended for fans of historical fiction, women's fiction and literary fiction.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: a lyrical and powerful 240 pages
Publication date: It came out in paperback November 30, 2004
Source:  my local public library

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1 comment:

  1. I have read very little about Che Guevara and have always wondered about him a little bit. It sounds like this book has a lot going for it and that it's an excellent example of historical fiction, which is a genre I love. Going to be checking this one out after reading your wonderful review. Thanks so much!

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