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Fiction. Latino/Latina Studies. "When 59-year-old Zacarias Torres dies of a massive heart attack while in Brazil on business, the news shatters the veneer of complacency surrounding his family back home in Miami. In the interim between his death and burial, various members of his family come to terms with the turbulent emotions they had previously chosen to ignore. Empty lives, unfulfilled dreams, failed marriages, alcoholism, and depression all come to light as the family attempts to deal with the crisis. ...
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Fiction. Latino/Latina Studies. "When 59-year-old Zacarias Torres dies of a massive heart attack while in Brazil on business, the news shatters the veneer of complacency surrounding his family back home in Miami. In the interim between his death and burial, various members of his family come to terms with the turbulent emotions they had previously chosen to ignore. Empty lives, unfulfilled dreams, failed marriages, alcoholism, and depression all come to light as the family attempts to deal with the crisis. Suarez, a critically acclaimed author, tells the story of the Torres family in brief chapters in which the characters reveal their hopes, dreams, and secrets. Ultimately a message of hopefulness, Suarez's rich, mesmerizing novel, though it dissects their dissolution, celebrates the ties that bind families together"—Kathleen Hughes, Booklist.
The loud screech of a tropical bird awoke Zacarias before dawn. Inside the hut the darkness prevailed. Having forgotten that he was sleeping on a hammock, he tried to turn over on his side, but found it impossible. At that moment he remembered where he was: in the small farming village of Latinia, Brazil, less than twenty-five miles outside of Sao Paulo.
In the darkness of the hut, he sighed and grew still, as if waiting for the bird to cry out again, but he heard nothing. A dream, he thought, he was having a bad dream. And since he had overstuffed himself with feijoada, which the camp cook made for supper last evening, he realized it was possible that such heavy food caused the dream, the content of which he couldn't recall.
He suffered from severe heartburn and gas. Feasting on so much of the.black beans with bits of pork and dried beef and deep-fried cassava wasn't good for him, he knew. All that fat and cholesterol. Can't be choosy so far away from the simple pleasures and comforts of hotels found in the bigger cities.
In the dark he brought his watch closer to his eyes and pushed the light button. The small screen of his digital, water-resistant watch (a Christmas gift from his wife Laura) lit up the time: 4 a.m.
One more hour and he and the workers, most of them cablocos, would have to return to the corn field. Today was Thursday, and he was overseeing the planting of a new line of hybrid corn seed which he himself had established. The seed came from his test fields in Homestead, Florida, a city not too far from Kendall where he lived.
He was short of breath.
"Maestro," a voice came from the deep dark of the hut "?Esta despierto?" It was Juan Carlos, his assistant asking whether he was awake.
He was a maestro; he was a Ph.D. in seed genetics with a specialization in corn, but he didn't mind being called maestro. The connotation was that of teacher, one who was an expert in his field, which he was. More than that, he was the best corn-seed geneticists, which was why he was here in Brazil, sent down by AID and the State Department.
"I'm awake, Juan Carlos," he said and cleared his throat. Outside the men were already moving about, talking, getting ready for coffee and breakfast, perhaps a little restless because they Sunday, their day off, was only three days away. These were the best, the strongest, and the most energetic men he had ever worked with, so he figured that every minute of their leisure time together counted. Time relished.
"Are you all right?" Juan Carlos asked. "Of course," he answered. "Why do you ask?"
"Your sleep was troubled," Juan Carlos said "You spent the night mumbling. Screamed once."
Was it he who had made the bird-like cry? "I am sorry if I kept you awake."
"Not at all," Juan Carlos said.
He would have bet Juan Carlos was a sound sleeper, the type who needed an explosion to go off by his pillow instead of an alarm.
They made a good team, he and Juan Carlos. Laura called them both workaholics who couldn't get enough of their campos. Their fields. But theirs was only a working relationship, otherwise he might have told Juan Carlos that he, Zacarias, slept poorly whenever he found himself away from the warmth of his wife's body. Zacarias thought of Laura for what seemed like a long time.
"Sun's coming out," Juan Carlos said.
Zacarias returned to a beautiful morning in the making. Already the smell of earth dominated the air, air which he breathed hard and deep. The dawn. He loved the fertile scent of moist dirt.
"Time to return to the field," he told Juan Carlos.
"We are making good progress," Juan Carlos said, and yawned. Being a soil-and-land-use engineer, he was overseeing the planting.
They had planted several acres so far, but they were far from done. All that planting in two days, Zacarias thought as he sat up on the hammock, wasn't bad. His feet and legs ached from standing all day in his work boots. Moving right along, he thought, and with his hands scrubbed his face, scratched the stubble on his cheeks and jaw. He stared at Juan Carlos moving about in the diluting dark of the hut, dressing. Zacarias was jealous of the young man's energy.
Outside, daylight bled a gray wash upon the hills surrounding the fields in the valley. The sun came up over the corrugated tin huts and small houses of woven branches, plaster and mud, stone and mortar, stucco and lime. The greens of the valley be~an to brighten.
Now the roosters in the distant backyards crowed.
"I will bring you some coffee," Juan Carlos said.
"Put a little water in it," he said. "The cook makes the cafe too strong."
Juan Carlos, dressed in beige khaki pants and calf-high boots, slid the curtain at the entrance so light flooded the hut. He walked out.
Sleeping inside the hut was okay, Zacarias thought, but he would never get used to hammocks, heat and the mosquitoes. How the workers lived with these inconveniences confounded him. The heat and mosquitoes. Juan Carlos knew of a way, by using smoke, of driving the mosquitoes out. This hut had two screened windows which would allow the air to circulate and keep the place cool.
The light of dawn showed the cracks on the dirt floor, whole ramifications of them. The workers' voices floated inside the hut as a distant murmur.
Castello, the camp manager and an old friend of Zacarias from back when Zacarias's father was alive, brought in a pail of water with which the maestro could wash his face and shave. "Bom dia," Castello said, and set the water on a fruit crate by the hammock.
"Bom dia, Castello," he greeted the short, robust man. "Obrigado."
The Portuguese Zacarias knew he learned years ago when he travelled with his father throughout Brazil. His father wanted him to learn the ropes so to speak, for him to see what a marvelous territory one day he too would have to work, either selling seed or planting. Brazil was his father's favorite country. Papi Torres, as Zacarias's father was called, knew its people and its history. For Papi Torres, Brazil was an exotic and enchanting place, a far away tropical paradise. His father, Zacarias remembered, was, in a strange and enigmatic way, respected and admired, not so much because of what he knew about the land or what he had taught himself about the people and their language, but because of his looks. Both father and son stood out in this dark and rich land, being six-feet tall, blond, and green-eyed. Zacarias, however, liked to think that it was because of his amiable and jovial nature that these men were attracted to him.
Castello told Zacarias he hoped the rain stayed away from the area for at least the coming week; after that the rain would be good for the crop.
"The rain is our friend," Zacarias said. "It knows when to stay away.
"It also knows when we need it," Zacarias added.
"The rain is a godsend most of the time," said Castello. "I hate to sound ungrateful, but it could also be nothing but trouble when we are planting."
"If it rains," Zacarias said, "it'll remind us all of when we were children and played in it."
Castello nodded as if the memory took him back to his own childhood.
One of the men called out to Castello to step outside. Castello excused himself and went out.
Zacarias sat up in the hammock, grabbed his boots and slipped his feet into them. The leather of his boots was the color of the dirt and riddled with as many cracks and lines. He stood and approached the pail of water. Then as he bent over to wash his face, his chest muscles went into a spasm. A tightening. The recoiling started at the sternum and pulled inward.
Now he felt a severe pain cut through his chest. Quickly he sat back down on the hammock and clutched his heart as if to tear out the pain. The pain, becoming acute, jabbed at his heart under his ribs.
With whatever energy he could muster, he called out to Juan Carlos, or Castello, or somebody to come help him, for it rapidly became clear to him that he was having a heart attack.
A heart attack at his age. He couldn't believe it. Not at fifty-nine.
Several men, Juan Carlos among them, rushed into the hut when they heard his scream.
Juan Carlos, after the maestro told him the details of the pain, recognized the symptoms. But there was nothing he could do, having never learned the proper first-aid procedures to help in such emergencies. All Juan Carlos could do was make sure Zacarias was comfortable.
On his back Zacarias looked helpless and defeated, his six-foot frame too large for the small hammock. Juan Carlos placed a pillow under the maestro's head. Zacarias's blondish curls stuck to his sweaty temples and forehead. His once vibrant green eyes seemed to fade against his sunburnt face.
Juan Carlos told Castello to get on the radio and call Sao Paulo for an emergency helicopter.
Castello hurried out of the tent and ran to the jeep where he found the radio and called the city. In all the years working on the farmsteads, he had never seen a man have a heart attack, a young, healthy-looking man. Sure, he had seen plenty of people die before - shot after a bar brawl, or from being thrown off a horse, or his sister-in-law from giving birth - but not from a heart attack. The human body worked in strange ways.
It look a while to make the connection, but Sao Paulo quickly confirmed the immediate departure of the emergency unit.
Back in the hut Juan Carlos sweated profusely, feeling helpless, not knowing what to do. This situation was too scary for him.
Having trouble breathing, expecting the worst, Zacarias succumbed to the pain in his heart. He closed his eyes. He tried to swallow, but his throat had become parched. Right before Zacarias drifted away, the image of his lovely wife appeared in his mind. Laura, the mother of his children...