A Servant's Tale

( 3 )

Overview

"A rare and wondrous thing....[Fox] knows how to create a character."—Vogue
Luisa de la Cueva was born on the Caribbean island of Malagita, of a plantation owner's son and a native woman, a servant in the kitchen. Her years on Malagita were sweet with the beauty of bamboo, banana, and mango trees with flocks of silver-feathered guinea hens underneath, the magic of a victrola, and the caramel flan that Mama sneaked home from the plantation kitchen. Luisa's father, fearing revolution, takes his family to New York. ...

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A Servant's Tale: A Novel

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Overview

"A rare and wondrous thing....[Fox] knows how to create a character."—Vogue
Luisa de la Cueva was born on the Caribbean island of Malagita, of a plantation owner's son and a native woman, a servant in the kitchen. Her years on Malagita were sweet with the beauty of bamboo, banana, and mango trees with flocks of silver-feathered guinea hens underneath, the magic of a victrola, and the caramel flan that Mama sneaked home from the plantation kitchen. Luisa's father, fearing revolution, takes his family to New York. In the barrio his once-powerful name means nothing, and the family establishes itself in a basement tenement. For Luisa, Malagita becomes a dream. Luisa does not dream of going to college, as her friend Ellen does, or of winning the lottery, as her father does. She takes a job as a servant and, paradoxically, grows more independent. She marries and later raises a son alone. She works as a servant all her life. A Servant's Tale is the story of a life that is simple on the surface but full of depth and richness as we come to know it, a story told with consummate grace and compassion by Paula Fox.

A Caribbean-born woman who come of age in New York's barrios rejects her chance at college and the American dream to become a maid in wealthy Long Island homes.

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Editorial Reviews

Vogue
A rare and wondrous thing....[Fox] knows how to create a character.
Marina Warner
[A] book I absolutely loved....Marvelously observed, horrific without being violent, modesty and reticent.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393322859
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2001
  • Series: Norton Paperback Fiction Series
  • Pages: 321
  • Sales rank: 1,443,102
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Paula Fox

Paula Fox is the author of Desperate Characters, The Widow’s Children, A Servant’s Tale, The God of Nightmares, Poor George, The Western Coast, and Borrowed Finery: A Memoir, among other books. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Biography

Paula Fox is the author of one previous memoir, Borrowed Finery, and six novels, including Desperate Characters, The Widow's Children, and Poor George. She is also a Newbery Award–winning children's book author. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Author biography courtesy of Henry Holt and Company.

Good To Know

In our interview, Fox shared some fun facts about herself:

"My first job was working in a dress shop in Los Angeles in 1940, for $7 a week."

"I like to cook; it is, for me, a happy combination of mindlessness and purpose."

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    1. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 22, 1923
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      Attended Columbia University

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2004

    A textured portrait of a unique survivor

    Luisa Sanchez, born of a Spanish island nobleman and a peasant servant, is uprooted as a child and replanted in a succession of dreary apartments in New York City's Spanish Harlem. She in turn takes up the servant's life, moving from observant, opinionated child to a stoic onlooker whose pragmatic eye registers every detail of her employers' lives. She is less acute in self-knowledge; even as she stands apart from those for whom she works, she stands apart from her own emotional center, and reports in measured tones her own surprise at the forces that stir and thwart her and the people who slip past her defenses to touch her more deeply than a husband or a lover. A Servant's Tale is a beautifully-textured character study of a difficult woman, one who has trained herself to be invisible and outwardly tractable but who maintains a steadiness and dignity that will not allow her, ultimately, to run from herself. There are no earth-shattering events here; Luisa has no time change history or to dabble in the sometimes personal politics of the 50s, 60s and beyond. She lives simply and works hard, doing what she must to hold together her life and that of her son Charlie, the one person she loves beyond reason; the one person who can cause her soul-crushing pain. Fox's writing makes all the difference. It breathes life into her characters and their neuroses and sometimes psychoses. She made me care about Luisa, about her peculiar morality, her stubborn privacy, her dogged instinct to survive and, ultimately, that lightening-rod of practical intelligence, bound up and obscured beneath all those years of servitude, that I expect to see her through the years beyond the last page. This is, in my opinion, an excellent book. It's a quiet book, and the small print makes it significantly denser than its 321 pages would imply, but the strength of its prose and images and the unique view from inside this woman who can be as much of a mystery to herself as she is to her employers kept me interested, and made me resent the intrusions of my own life that forced me, all too many times, to put it down. It's the first of Fox's books I've ever read, and it won't be the last.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2003

    Best book I have read in many years

    This is the best novel I have read in many, many years. It has all the hallmarks of 'literature' that 'English majors' are taught; though I can't name these, I know them when I see them, and they're here. Yet the book is also very readable. Unsentimental but deeply felt. At times painful but also joyful and gritty. I'm wondering what took me so long to find Paula Fox and can't wait to read her other books. This is a book I'll keep on my shelf for a long time and occasionally leaf through to re-read passages marked for their arresting writing quality. A book that, for those with a writing bent, inspires that feeling of 'Boy, I'd like to be able to do that.'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2003

    What took me so long to find this?

    A Servant's Tale is one of the best books I've read in many years. For me, it has both the hallmarks of 'literature' and the readability of popular work. The narrator is easy to identify with, and I respected her; she comes across as an ordinary person whose ordinary experiences are told about with extraordinary powers of articulation. I can't wait to read more Paula Fox and would recommend this book highly, especially to those looking for wonderful depictions of character and place.

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