Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad

Family Sentence: The Search for My Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad

by Jeanine Cornillot
     
 

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Jeanine Cornillot was just two years old when her father, a former Cuban revolutionary turned anti-Castro militant, was sentenced to thirty years in a Florida prison for political bombings. His absence left a single mother to raise four children who kept his incarceration a secret and conjured a mythic father-hero out of his occasional letters.
 

Overview

Jeanine Cornillot was just two years old when her father, a former Cuban revolutionary turned anti-Castro militant, was sentenced to thirty years in a Florida prison for political bombings. His absence left a single mother to raise four children who kept his incarceration a secret and conjured a mythic father-hero out of his occasional letters.
 
Jeanine’s Irish American mother struggled to support the family in suburban Philadelphia. Summers, she put Jeanine on a plane to Little Havana, where she lived with her Spanish-speaking grandparents and bilingual cousin—a sometimes unreliable translator. It was there in Florida that she met her father face to face, in the prison yards.
 
As Cornillot travels between these two worlds, a wryly funny and unsentimental narrator emerges. Whether meeting her father for the first time at age six and hoping she looks Cuban enough, imagining herself a girl-revolutionary leading protest marches, dreamily planning her father’s homecoming after his prison break, or writing to demand an end to his forty-four-day hunger strike after he’s recaptured, young Jeanine maintains a hopeful pragmatism that belies her age.
 
Eventually, a child’s mythology is replaced with an adult’s reality in a final reckoning with her father, remarkable for the unsparing honesty on both sides.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
What it's like when the dad you dream of is not the dad you have. Cornillot, now an Emmy-winning TV producer, shared a bedroom with her mother-who worked two jobs to support her four children-until she was a teenager. She didn't meet her father, Hector-a Cuban revolutionary later turned against Castro who had been sentenced to 30 years in a Miami prison for a series of political bombings when the author was two years old-until she was six, when she was sent from the Irish-American enclave of her mother's Philadelphia family to pass the summer in Miami with her Spanish-speaking Cuban relatives. En route to the prison to visit him for the first time, Cornillot's cousin Lola-whose father had also spent some time in prison-instructed her on the etiquette of the yard, "like a miniature guard." The moat is filled with hungry alligators, she told young Jeanine, and they will eat you. The fence surrounding the prison is electrified and can kill you. Finally, do not tell the guards about any secret notes you plan to sneak in. The first meeting-and most subsequent meetings-with Hector turned out to be grave disappointments, and the story is ostensibly structured around Cornillot's attempts to understand and engage with a complicated, sometimes selfish, often self-righteous man who confessed at one point that he'd asked her mother to abort each of their children. But the most engaging sections focus on the author's droll, self-possessed mother and her world-weary young bilingual cousins in Miami. Cornillot's obvious delight with the family she came to know compensates for the frustrated narrative surrounding her father. A charming, often sorrowful study of learning to let go of a myth and love aperson. Agent: Michael Murphy/Max. & Co.
From the Publisher
¡Finalemente! As incisive as she is lyrical, funny as she is profound, Cornillot dislodges the bolero-and-palm-tree nostalgia associated with Cuban American identity, and asserts claim to a new and very real history.” 
—H. G. Carillo, author of Loosing My Espanish
 
“Adds to the ever-growing jigsaw puzzle that is the Cuban American experience . . . with verve and charm.”
—Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

“A charming, often sorrowful study of learning to let go of a myth and love a person.”
Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807000380
Publisher:
Beacon
Publication date:
10/01/2009
Pages:
232
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

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Meet the Author

An Emmy Award–winning producer, Jeanine Cornillot began her career as a documentary editor, and has written and produced shows for CBS, NBC, and ABC. Cornillot has also coproduced a feature public radio documentary based on Family Sentence, which aired on BBC radio. She lives in Los Angeles.

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