The Messenger

Written by Mayra Montero
Review by Kathleen Sullivan

In 1920, Aida Cheng, the daughter of a Chinese man and Cuban woman, is propelled into a fantastic situation. Before she dies, she reveals this adventure to her daughter. In her late twenties, Aida, a fabulously beautiful and poor woman, has her fortune told by her powerful santero godfather: she will be involved with a man who will bring danger into her life. That man turns out to Enrico Caruso, who is performing at the Teatro Nacional in Havana. After a bomb attack, the dazed opera singer stumbles into a kitchen where Aida is visiting with a friend. Aida takes the terrified Caruso into hiding and they begin a passionate affair. Aware of her danger, Aida is sure that she can find a way to evade her fate and still be with her lover. Meanwhile, her family, including her Chinese father and her godfather, work in both the real and spiritual realms to assure that Aida will not follow Caruso into death.

Even in translation (done with great skill by Edith Grossman), the effective language and powerful images which Montero employs to tell her tale are above average. One is transported into the world of the poor in Cuba. It is culture in which an incredible mix of races has produced a rich “other world” from that of the elite Cubans. The explosion which propels Caruso from the theater and into Aida’s arms is only symbolic of the multiple blasts which shattered souls and minds on that fateful Sunday.

This book is highly recommended.