The Sugar Island Book

Author Ivonne Lamazares Reflects on Cuba in “The Sugar Island”

Lamazares faceBorn in Cuba in 1962, Ivonne Lamazares’ mother died when she was three, and she was raised by her grandparents in Old Havana.

She emigrated to Florida at the age of fourteen and currently lives in South Miami with her husband, the poet Steve Kronen, and her daughter. Lamazares is on the faculty of Miami-Dade Community College, where she received an endowed chair for excellence in teaching literature. Her short stories have appeared in Blue Mesa Review and Michigan Quarterly Review.

Lamazares was discovered at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference when she had written little more than the beginning of her first novel, The Sugar Island. Her teachers were so taken with her work that they introduced her to an agent –  and soon after, she signed a book contract. About the sudden attention her writing has received, she says, “I still can’t explain this. It’s like being in a car that’s out of control, going somewhere you never expected to go.”

Her short fiction has appeared in the Blue Mesa Review and the anthologies Having a Wonderful Time, and A Century of Cuban Writers in Florida. Her novel, The Sugar Island, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2000. The paperback edition appeared in 2001, followed by translations to French, German, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, and two Spanish translations.

In 1994, she received a Florida Arts Council Grant.

Here is her statement when she was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts:

“Like most novelists, I need sustained time for working on a project, both for the writing and the research. The Fellowship has allowed me this necessary time. With the NEA’s support, I’ve worked on my new novel,Some Realms I Owned, which takes place during what’s been called the “special period” in Cuba – the time immediately after the Berlin Wall fell and Soviet subsidies to the island dried up. I have conducted research and written the opening chapters. In addition, the financial support of the Fellowship has given me the opportunity to write and revise two other shorter pieces – one accepted for future publication in a Latino literature anthology, the other a newly finished short story. However, more than the money and the time that money buys, the NEA fellowship reminds me that I have the strength to outstare the empty page.”

Here is an excerpt from her book, The Sugar Island:

One day Mamá said life was about to start and ran off to the mountains to become a rebel guerrillera. No one knew exactly where she had gone until she came back pregnant a year later on a burro.

My dog, Fyor, and I stayed with Abuelita Carmen – my mother’s mother – in her thatched bohio. From her porch I searched the green hills for Mamá, Fyor barking beside me. At night we’d fall asleep against a wooden post and wake each morning on a cot in Abuelita Carmen’s kitchen.

Mamá came back on a late afternoon in March, just before my sixth birthday. Someone on a burro trotted up the stone path and I knew it was Mamá. I hid in the guava groves, shaking and covered with good bumps. My belly hurt. I squatted, pants down, and little worms rushed out of me in a hot foam. I watch them crawl in my stool. They had been eating me inside while Mamá was gone.

I stayed in the groves till sundown. By then the neighbors were sipping café on Abuelita’s porch. Mamá had bathed and her hair dripped down the back of her house dress. I tripped over the porch steps but she caught me, lifted me high, my face against her throat, her words vibrating against my cheek.

She had stories to tell: El Che was a “beautiful man,” Raul Castro a “uniformed rodent,” his brother Fidel a “Marxist Leninist Opportunist.” The fighting was moving west, Mamá said, away from Cáceres and the mountains. The rebels would be in Havana before the year’s end. “But,” she looked at me, “I’m glad to be back.”

Night frogs chittered in the brush as Mamá fell asleep on the rocking chair. Abuelita Carmen told everyone what they came to hear. She said her daughter “got knocked up by a rebel cook so they sent her home on a jackass.” The neighbors nodded, some in sympathy. A few grinned. Then they went back to their shacks in the dark.

Sometime that night Mamá slid beside me on the cot. She moved her cold hands over my belly like she’d done at times back in Regla, when we lived by the harbor. But now I lay stiff, scared Mamá might get up and go back to her rocking chair on the porch. Now that she was a guerrillera, maybe she missed sleeping out with the crickets and the tough mountain wind.

The next morning Mamá told me all she would ever say about the rebel cook: “The path of a woman’s heart,mija, is made slippery by hunger.”

Abuelita Carmen frowned. But I thought about it; the path of Mamá’s heart seemed slippery, regardless.

Author Ivonne Lamazares Reflects on Cuba in “The Sugar Island” was last modified: August 30th, 2016 by Cuba Journal