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The Island of Eternal Love by Daína Chaviano (Book Review)

Spanish book cover and front flapBefore reading fantasy novel La Isla de Los Amores Infinitos (available in English as The Island of Eternal Love) the only other Chaviano work I had read was a sci-fi short story about the Immaculate Conception (mentioned in my Cosmos Latinos anthology review). I really enjoyed that story for its irreverent sense of humor. It put the author on the radar for me. The Island of Eternal Love is part of Chaviano’s “The Occult Side of Havana Series” which the author’s website describes:

“In these works Havana is the point of departure for arriving at other universes – fantastic or magical – that lead the characters to unexpected discoveries about themselves. Each novel explores different facets of spirituality: reincarnation, Celtic magic, Spiritism or mediumistic practices, Afro-Cuban cults…”

The Island of Eternal Love is a family saga that includes ghost relatives, fantastical creatures, obscure religious rituals and supernatural abilities. It’s also a great story to learn about Cuban history while being entertained. The novel focuses on three families originally from China, Nigeria, and Spain that end up in Cuba .

The three families are [this section contains spoilers]   :

1. From China: Kiu-fa, husband Síu Mend, son Pag Li. They flee Chinese civil war to Cuba with Síu Mend’s grandfather who lived in Havana’s bustling Chinatown. They used dream interpretation to play the clandestine Chinese Charade lottery.

2. From Spain: Clara, husband Pedro, daughter Ángela. When the women of this superstitious family hit puberty, they are cursed with a mischievous dwarf called Martinico only they can see. Ángela can also see other fantastical entities.

3. From Nigeria: Caridad (African name Kamaria) and Florencio, both emancipated slaves of African mothers and white slave trader fathers that start a business in Havana. Caridad can see ghosts, and her daughter Mercedes falls victim to a demon that completely alters her personality.

English translation cover [END SPOILERS]

The families’ story is told by an old woman (Amalia) to Cecilia, a Cuban woman who left Havana for Miami. She alternately misses Cuba and despises it. Cecilia’s loneliness in her new city makes her visit with the old lady again and again to continue the tale. Cecilia is a reporter investigating claims about a phantom house that appears and disappears in different Miami locations. Only people with the ability to see supernatural phenomena can see it. In general they are reluctant to talk about it, so Cecilia is having a hard time writing the story.

Cecilia isn’t a very likeable character (she gets rather depressing after a while), but she is a smart investigator that is open-minded about the supernatural. The novel constantly switches from Cecilia’s investigation to Amalia’s story. At first I found Cecilia’s phantom house investigation intriguing, but as it went on I wanted to get back to the “good stuff” which to me was the old woman’s story.

The old woman’s tale eventually brings the three families together and along the way explores Cuban political, musical, slave, and ethnic Chinese history. It is also heavy on the religious rituals from all three family cultures and has a subtle sense of humor throughout. I would recommend this book for anyone who likes stories of ghosts and the occult and/or is interested in multi-ethnic Cuban history. Chaviano writes beautifully in Spanish, so I hope this translates well in the English edition.

Check out Daína Chaviano’s official website here. There is also a Facebook fan page and a book trailer for The Island of Eternal Love.

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