When writers are likened to jazz musicians, it's usually in admiration of a startling linguistic virtuosity or an unbridled imagination; it might be noted, for example, that a novelist possesses a pyrotechnic energy to match that of Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie. But Cristina García's new novel, Monkey Hunting, is much more like one of those haunting [Miles] Davis solos. Like the trumpeter, García has a rare gift for concentrating beauty by leaving things out. Here is a miracle of poetic compression, a novel that manages to trace four generations of a family not by revealing every last detail of personal histories but rather by revealing people's dreams, their unuttered concerns and observations — the things that strike them when they hear the hoot of an owl, or when they try on a pair of their great-grandfather's glasses in front of a mirror. Jeff Turrentine
As in García's beautiful first novel, Dreaming in Cuban, and its follow-up, The Aguero Sisters, the narrative leaps sure-footedly between the branches of a bushy and far-flung family tree. In her previous novels, García stuck to what has come to seem an inevitable subject for a Cuban-American writer, the plight of divided families and their nostalgia for a world that lies -- thanks to Fidel Castro, the Straits of Florida and the sheer passage of time -- just beyond their grasp. Here she's much more ambitious. In a scant 250 pages, she attempts to take in four countries and more than a hundred years of turmoil, encompassing the Boxer Rebellion, the Cultural Revolution and Cuba's long struggle for independence. — Jennifer Schuessler
The writing in Monkey Hunting is crystalline, occasionally surreal and nothing short of lovely. There is a rhythm to the narrative that echoes the rich, careful pace of the Cuban days it describes. — Robin Vidimos
The Chinese-Cuban experience is plumbed in this graceful third novel by Garcia (Dreaming in Cuban; The Aguero Sisters), encompassing five far-flung generations, four countries and two tumultuous centuries. Farm boy Chen Pan leaves his native China in 1857, dreaming of the riches awaiting him in mysterious Cuba. Instead, he is obliged to work on a sugarcane plantation, subjected to the atrocities of forced servitude in a country that is not his own and in which he is viewed with suspicion. He eventually manages to escape and creates a life for himself beyond his wildest dreams, as a successful small-business owner, beloved husband and doting father. Becoming almost more Cuban than Chinese, he falls in love with Lucrecia, a former slave. His mixed-blood descendants, scattered between Cuba and China, struggle to find their place in a world that strives to keep its ethnic and geographical boundaries distinct. Chen Fang, a granddaughter raised as a boy in China, is a remarkable woman who manages to get an education and become a teacher, eventually landing in one of Mao's appalling prisons in 1970 Shanghai. As a teenager, great-grandson Domingo Chen departs Cuba for New York with his father and faces the same hostility and racism there that Chen Pan dealt with in mid-19th-century Havana. Domingo's journey from Cuba to New York then Vietnam is told in unsparing detail, bringing the novel full circle. Though Garcia ranges farther afield here than in previous works, her prose is as tight and polished as ever. The book is rather short for its span, and a bit more development of some characters-particularly Chen Fang-would have been welcome, but that is a mere quibble. Garcia's novel is a richly patterned mini-epic, a moving chorus of distinct voices. (Apr. 22) Forecast: Garcia's latest (released in a first printing of 50,000 copies) may take a bit more selling than her previous novels, since the focus is more eclectic, but her track record is stellar, and interest will be considerable. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In her third novel, Cuban-born American Garc!a deepens her inquiry into what it means to be Cuban-and what it means to be an immigrant. Here, she chronicles the fortunes of Chen Pan, a Chinese who is enslaved in the Cuban sugar fields in 1857 and later becomes a prosperous businessman in Havana; the mulata slave Lucrecia, whose relationship with Chen Pan is poignantly rendered; and their descendants: Lorenzo, a doctor of herbal medicine in Havana; lesbian Chen Fang, a teacher imprisoned for counterrevolutionary activities in Mao's China; and Domingo Chen, an immigrant to New York City who serves in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Garcia clearly enjoys playing with the form of the novel; her narrative shifts gracefully from third to first person, and the 19th and 20th centuries seamlessly intermingle, as do Buddhism and Santer!a. Like the author's highly acclaimed Dreaming in Cuban and The Aguero Sisters, this is a brilliantly conceived work-and it's also delightful reading. Highly recommended for all academic and large public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, OR Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Garc'a's third (after The Aguero Sisters, 1997, etc.) again lyrically portrays several generations of a Cuban family, this one with Chinese roots. In 1857, a Westerner in Amoy fools 20-year-old Chen Pan into signing on for indentured labor in Cuba, where "the women were eager and plentiful [and] . . . even the river fish jumped, unbidden, into frying pans." After the horrific sea voyage disabuses him of such fantasies, Chen Pan survives more than two years on a sugar plantation, befriending some of the African slaves before escaping to Havana, where he prospers as a merchant and buys a young black woman who becomes his lifelong companion. Interwoven with the couple's history are narratives about their granddaughter, Chen Fang, born in 1899 during her father's brief sojourn in China, and their great-grandson, Domingo Chen, who immigrated to New York with his father in 1967. Chen Fang becomes a victim of Mao's Cultural Revolution, and Domingo falls in love with a prostitute while serving in Vietnam, but their stories are sketchy and pallid compared to the richness of Chen Pan's experiences in Havana, a city with a multicultural vigor drawn from the clamor of different cultures and races. In 1867, in Havana, "the vendors hawked fresh okra and star apples, sugarplums, parakeets, and pigs' feet . . . [and] from the moment he arrived, [Chen Pan] knew it was where he belonged." His descendants in China and America never belong in the same way, and their tales are left unfinished, though the novel hints at sad ends. Chen Pan, by contrast, survives the loss of his beloved Lucrecia to see dramatic changes in now-independent Cuba, and he dies drinking the red wine a friend had promised would makehim immortal. Sometimes more interesting for its revelation of little-known aspects of Cuban history than for its revelation of characters, but Chen Pan lingers in the memory as a brooding, contemplative patriarch. First printing of 50,000