Review: Vanishing Maps

Cuban American novelist and journalist Cristina García debuted her first novel in 1992, the beloved Dreaming in Cuban (a National Book Award finalist), in which she introduced three generations of del Pino women. Nearly a third of a century later, García delights her substantial audience with Vanishing Maps, which picks up two decades later with four del Pino generations now scattered around the globe.

Nonagenarian matriarch Celia remains in Santa Teresa del Mar, but she's "started dreaming again: of leaving Cuba, of visiting her ex-lover in Grenada," whom she hasn't seen in 66 years. None of her progeny inherited her devotion to El Líder and the revolution and have long since fled the island. Older daughter Lourdes, in Miami, publicly protests the return of a young boy (not unlike Elián González) to Cuba after he survived a boat escape that killed his mother. Pilar, Lourdes's daughter and a struggling Los Angeles artist, finally visits Lourdes with her young son, Azul, whose Japanese father is adamantly uninvolved.

The contentious reunion of mother and daughter is brief, and Pilar decamps to Berlin, where her cousin Ivanito is both a notable polyglot translator and sensationally in-demand drag queen. He's wearing an unwanted invisible halo, which is somehow linked to Felicia, his late mother and Celia's middle child, who refuses to leave him alone. Even death doesn't quell her obsession with Ivanito, nor does it change her distance from twins Luz and Milagro, still waiting in Miami for parents who only disappoint. Missing, too, is Celia's only son, Javier, but his daughter Irina--Ivanito's cousin--is a queen of sorts as well, having invented herself as the "brassiere queen of Russia," a manufacturing powerhouse. When she travels to Berlin to open another factory, she discovers an identical twin.

Of course, these disparate paths must converge.

To have previously enjoyed Dreaming in Cuban is not required; Vanishing Maps stalwartly stands alone. Continuity (or perhaps even a re-read) undoubtedly adds further satisfying layers, with the occasional nods to intimate knowledge of previous backstories: Celia's letters from Dreaming in Cuban, for example, are replaced with photographs shared by Pilar in Vanishing Maps (in which epistolary fates also reveal themselves). Return readers might notice that García's inventive structure in both novels is similar, mixing third- and first-person narration, moving back and forth in time, and inserting interludes for illuminating, sometimes teasing, glimpses into the past. Underscoring a visceral longing for connections--even hugs are too few--in generations scattered by ideology, politics, and just plain circumstance, García presents an exquisite family affair to remember. --Terry Hong, BookDragon

Shelf Talker: Cristina García continues the sensational dramas of the del Pino family--first introduced in her 1992 debut classic, Dreaming in Cuban--in Vanishing Maps, a spectacular companion title.

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