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Days of Aweby Achy Obejas
Synopses & Reviews
1. Days of Awe deals with the tensions between public and private identities. What, specifically, are some of the characters' conflicts between their public and private lives--especially in the cases of Alejandra, Enrique, Nena, Ytzak, Sima, Barbarita, Olinsky, Moises, Orlando, Leni, and Celina? 2. Each of the San Joses--Ale, Enrique, and Nena--have their own way of worshipping. How would you describe these ways? How do these characters find balance? What is the role of faith in the story? 3. Much of the story also deals with exile. Many of the characters-- Alejandra and her family, Olinsky and Ytzak--flee in order to change and, sometimes, save their lives. But others--Sima, Moises, Orlando, and especially Deborah--choose to stay where they are, almost in defiance. What does exile mean to the different characters? 4. What is the role of memory in Days of Awe ? How does individual memory mesh with collective memory? What happens when memory is confronted by contradictory or conflicting facts? 5. The anusim --the descendants of Jews who survived the Inquisition by pretending to be Catholic--have a mostly hidden history. How does this play out in the story? What is the role or impact of history? 6. Many of the characters are also confronted with the challenge of assimilation and the emergence of multiple identities. Is Alejandra Cuban or American or both? How does Judaism play into her identity? How does Enrique balance being both Cuban and Jewish? How does that compare with Moises or Olinsky? What about Barbaita's affinity for her Chinese lover's culture and language? 7. Alejandra says: 'What Leni and I really shared was a certain shame about belonging to oppressed minorities that had their own paradoxical privileges in the world.' What does she mean? 8. Language and its mysteries is an integral part of the novel, and several of the characters are either translators or interpreters of some kind. How does the act of translating or interpreting serve as a metaphor for crossing cultural boundaries? 9. When Celina first appears, she's so bored with Alejandra's conversation and so insolent that she leaves the room. But by the story's end, she has established an eerie intimacy with Alejandra. How did this happen? What changed? 10. In the end, both Ale and Enrique return to Cuba, one way or the other. But Nena, Ale's mother, does not. Why not? Why is return possible for some but not for others in the story?
Like her heroine, Achy Obejas was born in Havana and came to the United States as a young child. She is a cultural writer for the Chicago Tribune. Her articles have appeared in Vogue, The Nation, Ms. Latina, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Reader, Girlfriend, High Performance, New City, and Chicago Reporter. She is the author of Memory Mambo, a novel, and We Came All the Way from Cuba So You could Dress Like This?, a collection of short stories. She is a frequent speaker at universities and community centers across the country and in Cuba.
From the Hardcover edition.
On New Year's Day 1959, as Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, Alejandra San José was born in Havana, entering the world through the heart of revolution. Fearing the conflict and strife that bubbled up in the streets all around the new family, her parents took Ale and fled to the free shores of America.
Ale grew up in Chicago amid a close community of refugees who lived with the hope that one day Castro would fall and they could return to their Cuban homes. Though Ale was intrigued by the specter of Havana that colored her life as a child, her fascination eventually faded in her teens until all that remained was her profound respect for the intricacies of the Spanish language and the beautiful work her father did as a linguist and translator.
When her own job as an interpreter takes her back to Cuba, Ale is initially unmoved at the import of her return-- until she stumbles upon a surprising truth: the San Josés, ostensibly Catholics, are actually Jews. They are conversos who converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition.
Enlightened by a whole new vision of her past and her culture, Ale makes her way back through San José history, uncovering new fragments of truth about the relatives who struggled with their own identities so long ago. Ale is finally lured back to Cuba to make amends with the ancestral demons still lurking there--to translate her father's troubling youthful experiences into the healing language of her Cuban American heart.
In beautiful, knowing prose, Achy Obejas opens up a fascinating world of exotic wordplay, rich history, and vibrant emotions. As Alejandra struggles to confront what it is to be Cuban and American, Catholic and Jewish, Obejas illuminates her journey and the tempestuous history of Cuba with intelligence and affection. Days of Awe is a lyrical and lovely novel from an author destined for literary renown.
From the Hardcover edition.
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