BB-Reader Review: "Las Madres"
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BB-Reader Review: "Las Madres"
Reader Review: "Las Madres"

by Cathryn Conroy (Gaithersburg, Maryland): This is a fierce, touching, and insightful intergenerational novel about heritage, memory, and secrets, but most of all family, especially the family we create with our dearest friends.
Written by Esmeralda Santiago, this is the story of three mothers—Luz, Ada, and Shirley—and two daughters, Graciela and Marysol. The five are bonded for life, even though Luz and Marysol live in the Bronx, while Ada, Shirley, and Graciela live in Maine. All hail from Puerto Rico, and even though the daughters were both born in New York, they feel Puerto Rican.
The novel switches between two pivotal years: 1975/1976 and 2017. In October 1975, Luz is 15 and living with her parents, Federico and Salvadora, both accomplished scientists, in Puerto Rico. She is a gifted ballet dancer with high hopes of dancing professionally. But those dreams are shattered when tragedy strikes, leaving her disabled and orphaned. After months of hospitalization and rehab, her grandparents—one on each side—step in to care for her. It is when she is living with her grandfather, Alonso, that her life improves thanks to a loving tutor, Ada, and new friends. But Luz has brain damage that greatly impairs her memory, and this lasts for the rest of her life. Something may happen now, and in five minutes she has no memory of it. It's as if Luz is reborn every day.
Fast forward to 2017. Luz and her daughter Marysol (who is in her 30s), live in New York City. Along with their dear friends Ada and Shirley and their daughter, Graciela, Luz and Marysol visit Puerto Rico to celebrate Shirley's 70th birthday. The mothers (las madres) left in 1977 and have never returned, while the daughters (las nenas) have never been. Their timing couldn't be worse. Hurricane Irma just passed, fortunately skirting the island, but unbeknownst to them when they land for several days of partying and fun, Hurricane María is headed to Puerto Rico for a direct hit.
The story is slow to develop, but it hits its stride about two-thirds of the way through. Stick with it! It's worth it because what was once somewhat plodding becomes a riveting tale as the five women experience not only the full force of Hurricane María, but also lean on each other as long-held secrets are revealed, threatening to tear them all apart.
This is a novel that examines the importance of memory. After all, it is our memories that give us our sense of self, but it is our friends and family who become the rock of our lives—especially when those lives are shattered.
A note on the text: There is a lot of Spanish woven into the story, and I found the Kindle translation feature essential for understanding the narrative. In addition, Luz and her parents are quadrilingual in English, Spanish, French, and German and mix and match the four languages—sometimes combining two languages in a single sentence. The Kindle translate feature was indispensable!

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