The narrator of Letters to My Mother is a young Afro-Cuban girl who, when her mother dies, must live with her aunt and cousins. Dependent on them and their goodwill, she’s deeply wounded by their taunts about how dark her skin is and their attacks on her behavior in general, including her choice not to straighten her hair. When not at home, she must endure constant, casual racial prejudice. To keep the memory of her mother alive, and to remind herself that she was once unconditionally loved, she writes letters ...
The narrator of Letters to My Mother is a young Afro-Cuban girl who, when her mother dies, must live with her aunt and cousins. Dependent on them and their goodwill, she’s deeply wounded by their taunts about how dark her skin is and their attacks on her behavior in general, including her choice not to straighten her hair. When not at home, she must endure constant, casual racial prejudice. To keep the memory of her mother alive, and to remind herself that she was once unconditionally loved, she writes letters telling “Mami” what she is suffering and feeling. Composed wholly of these letters, this powerful, moving novel tells how the heroine comes of age. Is her inner strength sufficient to overcome her pain and the bigotry of the people in her life?
When it was originally published, Letters to My Mother was attacked for exposing the problem of racism in contemporary Cuban society. Nevertheless, this illuminating, thoughtful work went on to win major awards.
This powerful epistolary novel by an award-winning Cuban writer probes themes of racism and family. In letters to her beloved mother in heaven, the unnamed narrator ages from 10 to 15, and learns that the memory of being cherished can kindle the ability to love, forgive and accept love. The heroine is sent to live with her brutal grandmother, aunt and cousins after her mother's death, and they mock her, calling her bembona (meaning "thick lips"). Seeking solace, she dreams of her mother, "running from one end of the sky to the other pulling a kite made of clouds." The casual second-person voice disarmingly exposes sociological inequities. Gazing at her reflection, the narrator searches her face intently: "Guess what? I've discovered that my eyes are like yours-beautiful just as they are.... I don't like it when people say that blacks are bembones.... If God exists, I'll bet he gets very angry when people criticize his creations." Later she reveals her maturation as a young woman. She begins to menstruate, overhears her aunt having sex, befriends a white boy distressed over his mother's prostitution, and discovers that her aunt's boyfriend has sexually abused her cousin. As her self-knowledge deepens, the narrator grows to love her cousin (with whom, she discovers, she shares the same, absent father), and even forgives her grandmother for past cruelty. This sheaf of small observations, smoothly translated, is itself a "piece of broken mirror," reflecting the toil, and flashing transcendence of the human experience. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
- Jan Chapman
The narrator of this story, a ten-year-old African Cuban girl, has suffered a devastating loss in the death of her beloved mother, her Querida Mama. Devastated by grief, besieged with loneliness, and feeling unwanted in her relative's home, she writes brief, poignant letters to a mother who is no longer there. She also has to face the disdain of her relatives who dislike her African appearance. But she finds solace in the friendship of a young white boy who understands her loneliness, and she befriends a caring neighbor who tends a garden full of wondrous flowers. This wonderful, exquisitely told story, which received Cuba's National Prize in Literary Criticism in 2000, has been translated in manner that transforms it into prose poetry. There are many complex issues woven into this deceptively simple story: the mystery of her vanished father, the inexplicable animosity of her grandmother, and the aftermath of an abusive relationship. Younger teens who enjoy prose poetry and simple yet richly layered stories about coping with difficult issues of life will respond enthusiastically to this gem of a novel. Its brevity and eloquence will make it appealing to reluctant readers who enjoyed Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust (Scholastic, 1997/VOYA April 1998) and Marilyn Nelson's Carver: A Life in Poems (Front Street, 2001/VOYA August 2001). This book would also be a wonderful addition to a multicultural booklist. It is highly recommended for both public and school libraries.
School Library Journal
Gr 7-9-C rdenas presents a stark portrait of the difficult life of a young African-Cuban girl. Each brief chapter represents a letter that she writes to her deceased mother. She tells of her unkind grandmother, her aunt's abusive boyfriend, and her cousin's sudden illness and paralysis. Although the main character, who remains unnamed, wants to die and join her mother in heaven, she continues to live and eventually to hope that she might find her father. As in Kimberly Willis Holt's Keeper of the Night (Holt, 2003), C rdenas sets his protagonist's struggle with grief in a rich cultural framework. The author's modern Cuba is a world in which Christianity and superstition, whites and blacks, love and infidelity coexist uneasily. The main character's voice is authentic, and the other characters, sketched with spare lines, are believable and sympathetic. The girl is only 10 at the beginning of the book but thematic elements and a nonexplicit description of the aunt's sexual encounters make the book better suited to an older audience. Short chapters and lucid writing will appeal to reluctant readers who want reassurance that even the bleakest periods of one's life can be endured.-Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.