“So much left behind. Our house. Our family. Our lives together,” Virgil Suárez writes in his memoir of life as a Cuban refugee. Beginning with the saga of the balseros that unfolds before Suárez’s eyes, when, at his mother’s insistence, he turns on the TV and witnesses a confrontation between the Coast Guard and the Cuban rafters, Suárez draws his memories of family and friends’ leaving Cuba and ties these through verse and prose to his experience of exile.
Rather than decry the politics of persecution under a dictatorship or celebrate the freedoms enjoyed in the United States, Suárez instead brings to life his memories on the page. Suárez writes, “Those old ghosts of places we knew, lived in moments we survived, those are the things I’m afraid of.” But those old ghosts populate his stories: the shadows of his extended family standing on the other side of the glass at the departure gate in the airport, the next-door neighbor of his childhood with whom he plays firing squad, his mother’s last wish to return to Cuba, and his promise to his father not to return until a change comes to Cuba.
Suárez’s poignant tales of family disintegration, culture shock and separation are only matched by his examples of people struggling for the strength to live their modest lives and to preserve their memories in the face of the challenges of the new society around them. He sees in the raft people, in the dissidents, in the newly-minted American citizens– the same creative will that launched his own career as a writer.