Arana’s inventive first novel draws on some of the same material that animated “American Chica,” her memoir about a dual upbringing in Peru and America. Don Victor Sobrevilla Paniagua is an engineer and a dreamer who ferries his wife and children into the Peruvian jungle to build a paper mill, raising “leviathans out of the earth” and creating a “swarming empire” of iron and steel. Don Victor has “the magic of a shaman” and the wealth of a god, but, once he masters the secret of manufacturing the “fragile, pellucid, mysterious” substance cellophane, Arana unleashes a destructive magic and, with deadpan comic timing, unravels his rain-forest demesne.
"There's more to this world than it tells us," Arana wrote in her memoir [American Chica]. "I'm haunted by an unseen dimension in which everything has roots, logic, and reasons - a tie to another point in time. I believe this with a child's certainty." In Cellophane, she seems to be trying to exorcise that unseen dimension, casting the figures of her memory behind a scrim of feverish color and watching them perform according to a logic she can control. She has flown above her own history to construct a surreal but orderly pattern: a fiction that's stranger than her truth but shares its bones.
The New York Times
Arana, author of American Chica and editor of Washington Post Book World, revisits her native Peru with a tale as bawdy, raucous and dense as the jungle whose presence encroaches on every page. Arana's first novel depicts a family-and a country-on the fulcrum between the old ways and the new, between feudalism and revolution. At the height of the Great Depression, paper engineer Don Victor Sobrevilla pitches his small empire where the trees are-in the heart of the rain forest-constructing a highly successful paper factory and a vast hacienda, Floralinda, far from the political centers of Trujillo and Lima, linked only to the outside world by the dangerous and unpredictable Amazon. When, in 1952, Don Victor discovers the formula for cellophane, his household is afflicted with a "plague of truth," a compulsion to confess their most shameful histories and most hidden yearnings, to make their stories as transparent as the paper itself. When desires are laid bare, so are the conflicts that the family has kept hidden for so long, resulting in interlocking quests for power. The novel's broadly comic first half makes the story's violent culmination even more harrowing. (June 27) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
On the banks of the Peruvian Amazon in the late 1940s, Don Victor Sobrevilla presides over a paper factory and farm, a small village of his workers, and his sprawling, garrulous family. His regular visits to his shaman elicit alarm from the local priest, but overall life in Floralinda is everything Don Victor dreamed of as a city boy mesmerized by engineering, paper, and the Amazon. His wife, Dona Mariana, ably runs the household and copes with her three grown children's failed marriages and her daughter-in-law's mental illness. Then, Don Victor perfects his recipe for cellophane and turns his factory over to its production. Seemingly overnight, as the mesmerizing beauty and transparency of his invention invades and uncovers their insulated world, the Sobrevillas find themselves taken by irresistible urges to confess past transgressions and passions and to seek more satisfying and authentic relationships. As the family upheaval grows, the dictatorship of Manuel Odria threatens the autonomy and safety of Floralinda itself. Acclaimed Peruvian American author Arana (American Chica) treads the ground between the stark realities of midcentury Peruvian politics and changing social mores and the sensitive and honest portrayal of a family in chaos as adroitly as the giants of the genre, including Gabriel Garc a M rquez and Isabel Allende. A powerful debut with broad international appeal, this is highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/05.] Jennifer Stidham, Houston Community Coll., Northeast Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A debut novel from Washington Post Book World editor Arana (American Chica, 2001) that blends magical realism with matter-of-fact descriptions of things Amazonian. Like the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo's "Black Stone Lying on a White Stone" and the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garc'a Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Peruvian-American Arana's narrative opens with an intimation of mortality: Its protagonist, the sonorously named Don Victor Sobrevilla Paniagua, foresees his death "in a bustling metropolis, surrounded by doting women." But first he must find an opposite setting, for Don Victor has an obsession with paper. Thus, in 1913, he treks across the Andes to a place that does not appear on any map, the vegetation-choked hamlet of Floralinda, where he founds a papermaking empire. Mad scientist that he is, Don Victor is not satisfied with paper alone, though his obsession endures: He realizes that one can make paper from any plant, and that bit of occult knowledge informs the rest of his life. Still, his larger ambition is to make something else, even greater than the French engineer Gustave Eiffel's iron building downriver: "To erect an iron house in the Amazon had been spectacular. To produce cellophane in quantities would be a miracle." His children-one wild, one bookish, one hauntingly beautiful, all a little odd-tolerate Don Victor's dream, as does his wife, Mariana, at least to some extent. Where they differ, they do so openly, for over much of the narrative, the people of Floralinda are afflicted with a habit of speaking the truth. (The encounter of the village priest with a supposedly possessed and most worldly woman is a stitch.) All that changes, though, when outsidersarrive, one by one: an Australian adventurer, an American mapmaker and eventually the army, after which Don Victor's world changes, slipping "from cellophane to official parchment."A pleasure to read.
"Memorable fiction…. Arana brings a freshness to the style that is all her own, elegant and lyrical but at the same time sparse, and no doubt enriched by a vocabulary infused with the rhythms of her two languages."—The Miami Herald
"Rich in themes, symbolism, conflict and character…. It's also, for those who just want a good tale, a brilliant piece of storytelling that combines magical realism in the tradition of writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez with comedic looks at human foibles and misunderstandings a la Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream."—The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Exuberant and virtuosic.... Conflict takes on a teeming array of forms in Cellophane: whites versus natives, religion versus magic, feudalism versus revolution. It’s a vision of the rain forest as a place where every strain of human drama grows as tangled as the encroaching vines—and in depicting this, Arana has wound her themes together with an energetic, subtly controlled wildness."—San Francisco Chronicle Books
"Marie Arana's sumptuous, often erotic and wholly enchanting novel, Cellophane…. owes a debt to the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende…. A superb example of the magic that a gifted storyteller can work with ink and paper."—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Arana’s writing is both lush and funny…. This is a great book.”—People
"An absolutely spellbinding tale…. Arana's prose is captivating, and she provides some incredibly beguiling moments."—Philadelphia City Paper
From the Hardcover edition.