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Book Author: Teresa Dovalpage

LAST SEEN IN HAVANA by Teresa Dovalpage: Book Review

Visiting one’s childhood home often proves to be a challenging experience, especially if you have been living in the United States for years and are now returning to Cuba.  So much has changed, either in reality or in one’s imagination, that it’s not surprising that Mercedes Spivey is not quite certain how she should feel about her return.

Mercedes spent her childhood with her paternal grandmother, her mamina, living in a huge ramshackle mansion in Havana.  Their home had always needed major repairs, but now it, as well as mamina, has fallen on hard times, and it is primarily Mercedes’ concern for her grandmother’s mental and physical wellbeing that has prompted her return to Havana.

Mercedes’s mother was American.  She managed to travel to Cuba in the 1980s despite the prohibition in effect at the time, and once there she fell in love with a Cuban military officer. Her birth name was Sarah, but over time she changed it to Tania Rojas to fit into Cuban life more easily.  Mercedes was born, her parents got married, and life went on more or less smoothly until she was two years old.  Then, suddenly, her mother vanished, never to return; her father’s army unit was sent to Angola and he died there.

She was raised by her grandmother, who answered all her granddaughter’s questions except the one she most wanted answered:  what happened to my mother?  The unsatisfactory conversations have dominated Mercedes’ life and fueled her lifelong desire to find her mother.

Now the widowed owner of a successful bakery in Miami, La Bakería Cubana, Mercedes decides it’s time to return to Havana.  She’s been upset by recent phone calls, in which mamina was confused and disoriented.  A phone call from her grandmother’s neighbor convinces her that she needs to visit as soon as possible, and a follow-up call makes the point even more clearly.  Her mamina thinks Mercedes is a schoolchild in Havana and doesn’t remember her granddaughter’s age or her move to Florida.

Two days later Mercedes and her friend Candela fly to Cuba’s capital city. Both mamina and the house are in worse shape than Mercedes had anticipated, and she’s determined to take care of both.  Making repairs on Santa Villa Marta is the easier of the two; taking care of her grandmother is much more difficult.  Although it’s clear that mamina’s physical and mental health are failing, she downplays her difficulties and at first refuses to accept any help.  Plus, Mercedes’ desire to find out more about her mother is still a forbidden topic.

As well as being a novel with a terrific protagonist and a gripping story, Last Seen in Havana offers readers a close look into Havana and its nearby countryside, both in the 1980s and the present.  We can understand the fascination Cuba held for Sarah/Tania, a young woman with “leftist” ideals, but after living in a country with coupons needed for food and clothing, assuming either was available, is it possible that she simply returned to the United States without informing anyone, leaving her toddler daughter behind?

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Cuba and is a novelist, short story writer, translator, and playwright, and her knowledge of the country of her birth comes through on every page.  You can read more about her at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DEATH UNDER THE PERSEIDS BY Teresa Dovalpage: Book Review

You may be certain that if something seems to be good to be true, it probably is.  That should have occurred to Mercedes Spivey when she’s told that she’s won a cruise for two from Miami to her place of birth, Havana, Cuba.  It’s true that she doesn’t remember entering any contest with that as the prize, but since things aren’t going well in her life at the moment, she decides to simply accept her good fortune.

Her husband Nolan’s teaching contract at Point South College in Gainsville, Florida, has not been renewed, and he has no other job on the horizon.  He is momentarily excited when an invitation to speak at the University of Havana arrives from one of its professors, but with the invitation came a note that “because of the embargo” the university couldn’t buy him a ticket or pay for his stay in Havana.

After he loses his job he realizes there is no money to pay for the expenses involved in the trip.  He is about to contact the professor who had extended the invitation and regretfully decline the opportunity when Mercedes comes home with the news of the free cruise.

While Mercedes and Nolan are waiting to board The Narwhal, Mercedes sees a professor whose class she had taken when she was a student at the University of Havana.  Selfa Segarra had been a colleague and friend of Mercedes’ deceased lover Lorenzo; at least, she had been considered a friend until a rumor started that she had reported one of his books to the political police.

Not eager to have a prolonged conversation with Dr. Segarra, Mercedes is about to get back to her husband when the professor mentions that she’s on the ship because she won a raffle with the cruise as the prize.  She, like Mercedes, doesn’t even remember purchasing a raffle ticket.  The professor tries to convince herself and Mercedes they are simply “a pair of lucky Cubans,” but both women are slightly uneasy about this.

The two women separate, with Mercedes reluctantly agreeing to see Selfa later, and a few minutes later Mercedes spots another familiar face on board.  Javier Jurado was a writer like Lorenzo, but an unpublished one, until after Lorenzo’s tragic death by fire Javier published Lorenzo’s novel under his own name and won the literary prize that rightfully should have gone to the dead man.

Now Mercedes is wondering about all these seeming coincidences.  She, Nolan, Selfa, and now Javier–all on the same ship headed for Havana.  And then Selfa disappears.

Teresa Dovalpage has written an exciting novel with a protagonist who is, as the Cubans says, de ampanga, “a piece of work.”  Although professing her love for the late Lorenzo, Mercedes had at least two affairs while they were together, including one with her now-husband Nolan.  When she wants something, she wants it.  Selfish, determined, persevering?  You decide.

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana but left in 1996 for the United States, where she has been living ever since.  She obtained her doctorate in Latin American literature from the University of New Mexico and has published eight novels.

You can read more about Teresa Dovalpage at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.