Island of the White Rose
Father Pedro Villanueva, 34, took vows because his mother wanted him to. He’s doing his best to forget his doubts about the priesthood. He’s also uncomfortable about the unpleasantness associated with living under a brutal right-wing dictatorship. It’s 1958 in Havana, and the angst-filled, yachtsman priest will soon take action on both those fronts.
The book begins at the Havana Yacht Club, where Father Pedro, dining with his family, witnesses Batista’s forces drag away a young kitchen employee, putting a damper on his enjoyment of the evening. As he becomes embroiled in the insurgency, however, it becomes clear that most revolutionaries are crude, vicious thugs who care little about social justice. Their true aims are power and revenge. There are a few fools and dupes among them as well. Two women embrace Father Pedro’s tragic involvement in this folly: the amazingly sexy yet vulgar and manipulative Dolores Barré, and the intelligent and lovely widow Maria Guerra.
The novel brings to mind an essay that Christopher Lehmann wrote for the Washington Monthly a few years ago about American political fiction. Lehmann thought Americans’ moralizing impulse and view of “the political process as a great ethical contaminant” wasn’t a good mix. Americans typically believe it’s better to “spurn the process and save your soul.”
Island of the White Rose exemplifies that. Its message seems to be that Father Pedro should have ignored injustice and definitely should have resisted temptation in the form of sexy revolutionaries in red bikinis. He should have stuck to hearing confessions and celibacy. Aside from politics, characters other than Father Pedro are two-dimensional, and as for humor, there isn’t a lick of it. This book will likely find a happy audience among Cuban exiles and others who hate Castro and his revolution.