The Distant Marvels

Written by Chantel Acevedo
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

The struggle for Cuban independence from Spain is at the heart of this exquisitely woven story-within-a-story.

It is 1963. The narrator, an old woman by now, is rescued from her home, as her Cuban island is on the verge of a hurricane. Along with other village women, she is taken to a building called Casa Velázquez to wait out the storm. The old woman, María Sirena, knows she is dying, but she never has spoken aloud about her origins and her shameful secret. With a captive audience, including a former friend whose late son was engaged to her daughter, she begins her story in a reverie-like state.

María Sirena recounts her origins, being born to Cuban nationals who were revolutionaries. Her birth on the high seas landed her father in prison, while she and her mother were essentially imprisoned at an inn, while her mother was forced to become the mistress of the innkeeper. After her father is released, the family continues with the fight, while María Sirena finds unexpected love along the way.

The book is a tribute to the lost art of storytelling, the heartbreak of making difficult choices in difficult times, and undying love. The author’s language is lyrical, the story compelling.