When Tito Loved Clara

When Tito Loved Clara

3.9 11
by Jon Michaud

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Clara Lugo grew up in a home that would have rattled the most grounded of children. Through brains and determination, she has long since slipped the bonds of her confining Dominican neighborhood in the northern reaches of Manhattan. Now she tries to live a settled professional life with her American husband and son in the suburbs of New Jersey—often thwarted

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Clara Lugo grew up in a home that would have rattled the most grounded of children. Through brains and determination, she has long since slipped the bonds of her confining Dominican neighborhood in the northern reaches of Manhattan. Now she tries to live a settled professional life with her American husband and son in the suburbs of New Jersey—often thwarted by her constellation of relatives who don’t understand her gringa ways.

Her mostly happy life is disrupted, however, when Tito, a former boyfriend from fifteen years earlier, reappears. Something has impeded his passage into adulthood. His mother calls him an Unfinished Man. He still carries a torch for Clara; and she harbors a secret from their past. Their reacquaintance sets in motion an unraveling of both of their lives and reveals what the cost of assimilation—or the absence of it—has meant for each of them.

This immensely entertaining novel—filled with wit and compassion—marks the debut of a fine writer.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Michaud, the head librarian at the New Yorker, writes well at the sentence level, but unconvincing characters and soap-operatic plot twists mar his debut about a resilient Dominican-American woman. Clara Lugo lives with her husband, Thomas, and their son, Guillermo, in the New Jersey suburbs and desperately wants another child, but can't conceive. Thomas, meanwhile, laid off from his job six months earlier, has lost his confidence. Clara's 16-year-old niece, Deysie, who has recently moved in with the Lugos, turns out to be pregnant by Clara's sister's ex-con boyfriend. Then Clara's old high school boyfriend, Tito Moreno, reappears. When Clara and Tito, who has failed to move on after their brief tryst 15 years earlier, try to resolve some unfinished personal business, hurtful revelations promise to change the course of both their lives. Despite Clara's complicated family drama, Tito's unhealthy obsession with Clara, and a subplot with the seedy ex-con, the story fails to garner any emotional weight. Author tour. (Mar.)
VOYA - Sharon Blumberg
Clara, the protagonist of this realistic fiction novel, never leaves her deep-seated roots in the Dominican Republic too far behind. Extremely intelligent, she becomes a self-made woman under the influence of a Latina schoolteacher who helps her apply to a prestigious university. While pursuing her library studies there, Clara meets and marries a white man named Thomas. Thomas and Clara live with their son, Guillermo, in an upscale section of New Jersey. Now if only Clara could conceive their second child, or is that their only problem? Meanwhile, Clara generously takes into her life and home her sister and her pregnant teenage niece, who both live in Clara's former world of Washington Heights. As the novel unfolds, various time periods of Clara's life mesh with one another as intertwined relationships unexpectedly connect like missing pieces of a puzzle. As Tito, a former love from Clara's past resurfaces, readers cannot help but wonder if her marriage can withstand the temptation. With his debut novel, Michaud has created a page-turner full of human insecurities, less-than-supportive parents (whose actions may make readers cringe in horror), issues of loyalty and intimacy, and the heartbreak that can accompany infertility. This is a great novel for high school seniors and older readers interested in Latino culture, romantic relationships, and intermarriage. Reviewer: Sharon Blumberg
Library Journal
For 15 years, Tito Moreno has carried a torch for Clara Lugo, his lost love. Shortly after high school graduation, Clara escaped an abusive home in their New York City Dominican neighborhood and completed her education. Now she lives in the suburbs, married with a child, working as a librarian, while Tito, still living with his parents, is in the same dead-end job he had in high school. Alternating chapters follow both protagonists through the crises that will briefly reunite them. At the same time, in each chapter there is a flashback to their childhoods and the events that separated them. This bittersweet first novel by the head librarian at the New Yorker creates a vivid if somewhat depressing portrait of the Dominican émigré community in this tale with no genuine happy endings. Nonetheless, the author has drawn an indelible portrait of a woman doggedly overcoming every obstacle in her path. VERDICT With the popularity of Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, this novel will attract those interested in reading about the hardships of life for emigrants from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean islands. [See Prepub Alert, 11/8/10.]—Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Kirkus Reviews

A youthful dalliance between the children of feuding Dominican immigrants has unexpected late-life repercussions when their paths cross again.

Abducted by her father and taken to New York where her stepmother abuses her and her domineering father closets her at home, Clara Lugo saw college as her ticket to freedom. Come the end of senior year, Clara, much to the consternation of Tito, vanishes. Tito, who has never married or progressed, still lives with his parents and entertains fantasies of family life. Tito's day job as a mover takes him to the home of Clara's high-school mentor, Ms. Almonte, who hires him. But when one of the movers steals a bangle, Tito makes it his personal mission to return the jewelry. The thief happens to be Clara's sister's ex-boyfriend as well as the father of Clara's niece's unborn child—just one of many circumstances that, at the time of Tito's reappearance in her life, make Clara's life Geraldo Rivera–complicated. Her sister, as yet unaware of the child's paternity, has just left for the Dominican Republic, leaving her daughter with Clara. Clara herself is undergoing fertility procedures after she and Thomas fail to have a second child. Not only does Tito's search for the bangle uncover Clara, but also Thomas' infidelity. Colorful characters abound, but lengthy digressions on, for example, Thomas and Clara's meeting in library school, Thomas's career as a librarian and Tito's directionless man-child existence bleed the focus. The unwieldy plot never coheres and culminates in an implausible ending.

Stacked coincidences, elliptical chronology and uneven character development detract from a lively novel with themes centered on immigrant experience and identity.

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Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Jon Michaud’s openhearted, soulful novel is a love story . . . but that’s not all it is: it’s also a multigenerational portrait of a family and the community around it; a joint meditation on contemporary manhood and, even more powerfully, contemporary womanhood; and a collection of delicately paced, astutely observed scenes that illuminate the way that people hide and reveal, hurt and heal." —Ben Greenman, author of What He’s Poised to Do and Please Step Back

"Jon Michaud . . . made me laugh while he was breaking my heart. His novel is a joy, a treasure, and a triumph.” —Lauren Grodstein, author of A Friend of the Family

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When Tito Loved Clara 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
WendySiera More than 1 year ago
This portrayal of life in Inwood (the old neighborhood at Manhattan's northernmost tip) is eerily perceptive. Michaud has captured the feel and tone of an immigrant Hispanic community from the point of view of the married-into-the-culture white spouse. It's vibrant and it's pitch-perfect. He's caught the voices, the moods, the sights, sounds and smells and yes, the soap-operatic nonstop drama. The book is also a small study of a type of maleness that is gentle and open-hearted and strong. That's a rarity in our literary output these days. A first novel with a great deal of charm, "When Tito Loved Clara" is a page turner that will keep you reading long past bedtime. We definitely look forward to more from this author. He's finding his stride--particular and unique. One gets the sense that the next book will be even better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful love story, very real and full of life. Definitely a page turner... Great novel!
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TDBass More than 1 year ago
Poignant story. You won't be able to put it down.
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lioness2001 More than 1 year ago
What a wonderfully written book that unfolds in layers.
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