Synopses & Reviews
On the outside, Josefina Navarros life seems fortunate enough—she lives with her father and her nursemaid, Regla, who raises her after the death of her mother in a luxurious home in Vedado, one of Cubas wealthiest districts. She attends society dances and is courted by all of Havanas elite young bachelors. Enchanted by the rituals of her nursemaid, Josefina learns about the profound mysticism inherent in even the most mundane affairs. Though she is pampered, Josefina feels that her life is without passion or excitement. Her father, Sergeant Antonio Navarro, a Spaniard by birth, is a stern and demanding man whose past is a tightly kept secret.
When she meets and marries Lorenzo Concepción, a poor, reckless young man, the sergeant tells her, “So, you have chosen him…and you will be hungry and miserable all your life.” The couple moves to El Cotorro, a poverty-stricken town that is far removed from the Vedado plazas and carefully tended gardens Josefina knew. Lorenzo begins to leave her for months at a time, “looking for work,” but in reality, womanizing and carousing all over the island. Even after the birth of two healthy children, Josefina is not happy. This is not the life she had envisioned.
During a political maelstrom, history brings the sergeant to El Cotorro to quell a riot, where he is attacked and presumed dead. But perception is reality on an island in which darkness and light commingle, and magic and truth are one in the same.
When Josefina begins receiving letters from her father, she believes that what she holds are heavens missives, ghost letters. Through the letters, Josefina comes to know her father intimately, as a ghost and guardian, as he reveals the truth about his life. In the act of writing and reading, she has found a love to fill the empty places in her heart.
Set in Cuba and Miami, covering nearly fifty years of the islands history, LOVE AND GHOST LETTERS unfolds the lives of the Navarro-Concepción families in the patterns and permutations of memory, and conjures a Cuban setting that evokes mysticism and magic.
"Acevedo's debut, a haunting story set in mid-century Cuba and Florida, spans more than 30 years and illuminates the estranged daughter-presumed-dead-father dynamic between Josefina and her police sergeant father, Antonio. When Josefina, predicted from birth to lead an 'unhappy and tormented' life, marries the aimless, yet romantic, Lorenzo, she abandons her well-to-do Havana upbringing and moves to impoverished El Cotorro, prompting her father to sever their relationship. As the book progresses through Cuba's torrid history, Antonio is forced to head to El Cotorro to quell a student riot, where he is presumed dead after disappearing and secretly seeking a life of exile in Miami. Once settled, Antonio, needing to reconcile his unsettled relationship with his daughter, writes her letters that she believes have been sent from beyond the grave. Acevedo captures a magical, dreamlike mood, relating Josefina's memories of her nursemaid's stories of saints and rituals, which sets the stage for Lorenzo's transformation into a selfish womanizer and Josefina's predictable love affair with the 'guardian angel' her father had sent to watch over her. This multi-layered epic paints an intriguing picture of pre- and post-Castro Cuba and is a promising debut for Acevedo." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“LOVE AND GHOST LETTERS is an enchanting novel; a heartfelt story, it tells volumes about the intimate life and loves of a family in pre-Castro Cuba. Along the way, it captures, beautifully, the atmosphere and emotions of a time which, both Cuban Americans and many an American reader, will find both reminiscent and fulfilling. A great debut." — Oscar Hijuelos
"[An] exceptionally fine first novel.... Acevedo shapes each of her characters with clear-eyed reverence, guiding their steps in measured, lyrical prose that is often breath-taking, exquisite.... And this is the author's genius: the line she walks between fact and fairy tale, history and wistful story, the magic that radiates, naturally, from the quirks and coincidences of daily life and what is (often) too easily celebrated--or dismissed--as otherworldly, supernatural."--A. Manette Ansay for The Chicago Tribune
"Acevedo is a fine storyteller.... [Love and Ghost Letters
] unfolds with a leisurely pleasure that feels like magic realism."--Christian Science Monitor
"Acevedo, a first-generation Cuban-American, lyrically illustrates the changing social, economic and political landscape in this tumultuous period in Cuba's history. She has filled her novel with enchanting details, down to the red, white and blue paper roses at that first society dance and the recipes Josefina's nanny concocts to make Lorenzo faithful to his wife."--Miami Herald
"[Acevedo's] writing is luscious, painting beautifully tragic pictures. Love and Ghost Letters takes a hard look at how closely wedded love and money are, without turning away from the ugliness of social inequality. The magic of the narrative is in the weaving of the personal with the public with such a poetic sensibility and fluidity of style that the reader is completely submerged into the trials of a Cuban family and the contradictions of Cuban society."--South Florida Sun-Sentinel
"...a quirky, charming story of filial love...a distinctly Latin mystique and a style of writing that juxtaposes the mysterious and the mundane."--Miami Today
"Love and Ghost Letters is an enchanting novel; a heartfelt story, it tells volumes about the intimate life and loves of a family in pre-Castro Cuba. Along the way, it captures, beautifully, the atmosphere and emotions of a time which, both Cuban Americans and many an American reader, will find both reminiscent and fulfilling. A great debut." -- Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love: A Novel and A Simple Habana Melody
On the day she is born, Josefina Navarro's nursemaid foretells misfortune. But for the young socialite in pre-Castro Cuba, her life in Havana with her Sergeant of police father is idyllic. That is, until she falls in love with Lorenzo, a penniless man who takes her away to the impoverished town of El Cotorro, and her father disowns her. Josefina comes to wish her father dead but regrets it after the Sergeant is assumed killed in a student-led riot. One day, mysterious letters from the Sergeant begin to arrive, telling her the truth about his past. The ghostly letters become her link to love.
Set in Miami and Cuba and covering nearly fifty years of that island's history, Love and Ghost Letters unfolds the lives of the members of the Navarro-Concepción families in the patterns and permutations of memory, and conjures a Cuban setting that evokes mysticism and magic.
About the Author
Chantel Acevedo is a first-generation Cuban-American whose childhood combined American modernity with traditional Cuban values. She attended the M.F.A. creative writing program at the University of Miami on a James Michener Fellowship. She has won two Fulbright Awards for secondary education.
Reading Group Guide
1. The novel begins with a prophecy about Josefinas life. Do you think it came true? What is the role of fate in the novel?2. Though Josefina leaves the wealth of Vedado for the poverty of El Cotorro willingly, she still desires the luxuries of her youth. Why did she make that choice to begin with? How are issues of class dealt with in the novel?3. Josefina is brought up Catholic, and her lover, Abel, forces her to attend Mass. Meanwhile, her nursemaid and adoptive mother, Regla, practices the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería. What does Josefina believe?4. The book provides a portrait of Cuban life as it evolved in the 20th century. What are some of these changes? How must the Navarro-Concepcíon families adapt?5. Why is the Sergeant so reluctant to talk about his past? What might it represent for him? Why do you think he chooses to reveal himself through letters?6. There are many men in Josefinas life—her father, the Sergeant, her husband, Lorenzo, Abel her lover, and her son, Lalo. What do they have in common?7. What is Soledads role in the novel? In what ways is she like her mother? Her grandfather?8. Josefina ultimately manages to forgive Lorenzos infidelities, and her fathers and Abels deception. Is this ability to forgive a sign of weakness or strength? 9. Why does Josefina burn her fathers letters? What would you have done with them?