When this novel was first published in Rivera’s native Dominican Republic, readers were shocked. Expecting a light-hearted romp through Caribbean sunlight and music, they were stunned by the multilayered complexity and poetic power of the novel.
A coming-of-age story of two young girls—or is it is two sides of the same girl?—caught between the onslaught of U.S. consumer culture and the evolving Marxist ideologies of the Cuban revolution, the story reflects the loss of any sense of identity as the girls move toward adulthood. While one voice recounts and reflects upon the story of her close relationship with a more adventurous friend in an effort to understand that friend, the other voice tells the story of how the experiences recounted by the first voice feel to her from inside. Despite their shared existence, the two have vastly different realities. "All skin and bones at age 15 . . . Anorexia nervosa . . . but overall you look pretty happy," states the first voice as she looks at old photographs. Despite their closeness, she is unable to see that the death of the other’s father has left her unable to "shake free of the icy current that had left death buried in my chest." In their attempts to define who they are and how they will live their lives, they look for role models in writers and musicians, including Emily Dickinson, Lezama Lima, Alejandra Pizarnik, Carole King, Charlie Parker, Julio Cortazar and Rainier Maria Rilke, but as loss piles upon loss—loss of cultural identity, loss of lovers, loss of dreams, loss of a child—the women move ever closer to the realization that "the worst solitude is the one that is shared."
Martha Rivera, born in 1960 in the Dominican Republic, has published three volumes of poetry in addition to this novel.