Tomorrow They Will Kiss
Santiago evokes a strong sense of Cuban immigrant life in this novel set in 1960s Union City, New Jersey. Graciela, Caridad, and Imperio, the three narrators, all left Castro’s Cuba for various reasons. They work dead-end jobs, assembling doll parts in a factory where immigrants are only trusted to work with the doll bodies, not the heads. What binds the three ladies together is the fact that they all came from the same town in Cuba, and they all love to watch “telenovelas,” Spanish-language soap operas.
Having that neutral topic for conversation on van rides to work is necessary, because they are not exactly friends. Caridad and Imperio, homesick for Cuba, criticize Graciela’s learning English and taking fashion design classes in an attempt to better herself. Graciela doesn’t care. She has always been a source of scandal, even in Cuba, where she married above her station by snagging a newly-widowed teacher at his wife’s funeral, and then cheated on him. Her attempts to attract the American factory supervisor provide even more food for gossip. Graciela’s life has come to rival the events in one of their favorite telenovelas.
Santiago drew on his own Cuban American family’s experiences for the book. Its lack of strong male characters reflects the relatives he knew, who became “distant, or depressed or drunk” once they emigrated. Flashbacks are skillfully woven into the narrative, giving readers a well-drawn picture of life in a Cuban small town. Spanish expressions in the dialogue add to the local color, yet are made understandable for English speakers. A discussion guide for readers’ groups, including an interview with the author, is provided. I relished the novel’s dip into Cuban culture, and enjoyed the memorable characters.