Maria Sirena tells stories. She does it for money—she was a favorite in the cigar factory where she worked as a lettora —and for love, spinning gossamer tales out of her own past for the benefit of friends, neighbors, and family. But now, like a modern-day Scheherazade, she will be asked to tell one last story so that eight women can keep both hope and themselves alive.
Cuba, 1963. Hurricane Flora, one of the deadliest hurricanes in recorded history, is bearing down on the island. Seven women have been forcibly evacuated from their homes and herded into the former governor’s mansion, where they are watched over by another woman, a young soldier of Castro’s new Cuba named Ofelia. Outside the storm is raging and the floodwaters are rising. In a single room on the top floor of the governor’s mansion, Maria Sirena begins to tell the incredible story of her childhood during Cuba’s Third War of Independence; of her father Augustin, a ferocious rebel; of her mother, Lulu, an astonishing woman who fought, loved, dreamed, and suffered as fiercely as her husband. Stories, however, have a way of taking on a life of their own, and transported by her story’s momentum, Maria Sirena will reveal more about herself than she or anyone ever expected.
Chantel Acevedo’s The Distant Marvels is an epic adventure tale, a family saga, a love story, a stunning historical account of armed struggle against oppressors, and a long tender plea for forgiveness. It is, finally, a life-affirming novel about the kind of love that lasts a lifetime and the very art of storytelling itself.
|Publisher:||Europa Editions, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Chantel Acevedo was born in Miami to Cuban parents. She is the author of A Falling Star (Carolina Wren Press, 2014), Love and Ghost Letters (St. Martins, 2006), winner of the Latino International Book Award, and The Distant Marvels (Europa, 2015). Acevedo is an Associate Professor of English in the MFA Program of the University of Miami.
Reading Group Guide
1. María Sirena’s mother Lulu had the spirit of a true revolutionary, but as a woman, lacked the social position to fight for the cause. What does The Distant Marvels suggest about the place of women in history?
2. Why is Agustín so determined to keep Lulu and María Sirena in his life when he expresses so little affection for them?
3. After living a strangely sheltered life as a child prisoner, at the age of fourteen María Sirena is thrown into a world of conflict. Is there a singular moment in the story when she becomes an adult, or is it a gradual transformation?
4. How has motherhood shaped María Sirena, softened or hardened her remembrances, and changed her perspective on herself as a younger woman?
5. Does María Sirena ever get the “cosmic justice” that Dulce claims the world lacks? What might that justice be?
6. Do you think it was reasonable for Mireya to blame María Sirena for her son’s death?
7. What is the relationship between María Sirena’s ailing physical body and her vision of herself as a young woman? What does The Distant Marvels suggest about the relationship of the physical body to the life of the mind and the spirit?
8. How does the Casa Velazquez serve as a metaphor for the dramatic changes taking place across Cuba?
9. What aspects of The Distant Marvels recall the form of a fairytale or an epic?
10. What relevance does storytelling have in contemporary life? Is it a way to preserve valuable history, or a way of obscuring the cold facts ofhistory?
11. Is it possible to look objectively at one’s own history? How objective or subjective is María Sirena’s tale?
12. What does The Distant Marvels suggest about the relationship between the individual and history? How much of an individual’s life is shaped by the history that precedes them, and how much power does an individual have to shape their future?
13. At the end of The Distant Marvels , do you think that María Sirena has forgiven herself for what happened to her mother, Mario, and Mayito? Did she ever deserve blame for their fate, and if so, does she deserve forgiveness?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had to stop mid-way and read a brief history of Cuba. I am glad I did.
Chantel Acevedo's "The Distant Marvels" is a heartwarming novel that employs the history of a Cuban family to flesh out and personalize the history of the island nation. I have been moved by the saga of the courage and determination of the Cuban people through the years. The common threads running through the book are the people's yearning for independence, and the importance of sharing people's meaningful life stories. The story goes back and forth in time, but I found the distinctions clear, and had no problems keeping track, especially since the author mostly delineates with separate chapters. I won't give away any spoilers, but I highly recommend this book, and look forward to reading more books by Ms. Acevedo in the future.