Derek Palacio’s The Mortifications is a swirling, transformative novel, possessing a narrative ground that shifts under my feet with every step I take further into the story. I love a novel that can make five years pass by in a few pages, that can make me taste both the sweetness of a tomato and the grunge of unwashed skin in the same paragraph, that transplants ghosts into tobacco leaves. That, in other words, reveals the magic and chaos of good fiction, and which, in turn, becomes the perfect vehicle to describe what is indescribable. Trauma, like the people it touches, is impossible to pin down, as is parenthood, religion, love, and death. It is lucky for us, then, that Palacio leans into this world of unknowable and uncontrollable forces like a translator who can convey even what is lost in translation.
— From Lillian
Derek Palacio's stunning, mythic novel marks the arrival of a fresh voice and a new chapter in the history of 21st century Cuban-American literature.
In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnacion--father, husband, political insurgent--refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami's familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.
Each struggles and flourishes in their own way: Isabel, spiritually hungry and desperate for higher purpose, finds herself tethered to death and the dying in uncanny ways. Ulises is bookish and awkwardly tall, like his father, whose memory haunts and shapes the boy's thoughts and desires. Presiding over them both is Soledad. Once consumed by her love for her husband, she begins a tempestuous new relationship with a Dutch tobacco farmer. But just as the Encarnacions begin to cultivate their strange new way of life, Cuba calls them back. Uxbal is alive, and waiting.
Breathtaking, soulful, and profound, The Mortifications
is an intoxicating family saga and a timely, urgent expression of longing for one's true homeland.