Of Women and Salt: A Novel

by Gabriela Garcia

Hardcover, 2021



Flatiron Books (2021), Edition: 1, 224 pages


"A sweeping, masterful debut about a daughter's fateful choice, a mother motivated by her own past, and a family legacy that begins in Cuba before either of them were born In present-day Miami, Jeanette is battling addiction. Daughter of Carmen, a Cuban immigrant, she is determined to learn more about her family history from her reticent mother and makes the snap decision to take in the daughter of a neighbor detained by ICE. Carmen, still wrestling with the trauma of displacement, must process her difficult relationship with her own mother while trying to raise a wayward Jeanette. Steadfast in her quest for understanding, Jeanette travels to Cuba to see her grandmother and reckon with secrets from the past destined to erupt. From 19th-century cigar factories to present-day detention centers, from Cuba to Mexico, Of Women and Salt is a kaleidoscopic portrait of betrayals-personal and political, self-inflicted and those done by others-that have shaped the lives of these extraordinary women. A haunting meditation on the choices of mothers, the legacy of the memories they carry, and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their stories despite those who wish to silence them, this is more than a diaspora story; it is a story of America's most tangled, honest, human roots"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member brangwinn
This may be a multi-generational story of a Cuban-American family, but its really the story of Jeannette, the daughter of a Cuban immigrant. When we met her she’s an adult struggling with addiction and a struggling relationship with her mother who personifies the wealthy Cuban lifestyle with her
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husband, a surgeon. Its also the story of a El Salvadorean illegal immigrant who along with her daughter, Ana, are deported to Mexico, where they learn to survive. Intermingling chapters tell the story of Jeannette’s Cuban heritage and history, her current addition problems and the story of young Ana and her mother as illegal immigrants in two countries. You can try to leave your past, but it is always with you and a part of your heritage.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Of Women and Salt, Gabriela Garcia, author; Frankie Corzo, narrator
In this multi-generational tale of immigrants, there is dysfunction, irresponsibility and desperation as a result of need, poor choices and many unexpected consequences. From Cuba to America and places in between, the characters
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describe their experiences and disappointments showing courage and fortitude. There is very little gratitude for what the host country provides them, however, rather there is resentment for what they are lacking because they are not accepted and welcomed. Often their predicaments are self-inflicted, offering little choice of any other outcome.
Whether living in El Salvador or Mexico or Cuba, coming to the United States is often the ultimate reward for their dangerous journey, a journey they hope will lead them to a better life. They bypass the laws of America and live in the shadows, many for years and years. They bear legal children who are at the mercy of the authorities if the parents are deported. Their illegal children will be deported with them, thus ripping families apart. Although the immigrant blames the system, it is their choice to live illegally in America that leads to the hardships and suffering they face. Although they often leave their home country because they feel threatened either by danger from within their own family or from the political conditions in their country or from the governmental regulations or the warring factions that make their survival tenuous, they choose to do it without appropriate papers. Still, they leave all they know to find sanctuary for themselves, or in reality, mostly for their children whom they want to have greater opportunity for a better, safer and more successful life.
They endure danger and fear as they trek from their country across land and water fraught with danger, often led by dishonest coyotes or drug dealers who charge them exorbitant fees and sometimes even leave them to fend for themselves at the most dangerous part of their journey. They are often robbed, raped and abandoned, sometimes left for dead, but they are so desperate they are willing to risk the danger. Once they are in the United States, they must figure out how to navigate the country so as not to be taken into custody which would be followed by deportation and the defeat of the very purpose of their journey.
As with many of the novels and non-fiction tales about these immigrants, this one shows their plight as they live in the constant fear of being caught, as they dread being separated from the child they gave birth to shortly after they arrived because that child is legal and can remain, but they cannot. Even as they can’t bear the thought of separation, the thought of taking the child to a dangerous country they never knew, but one the parent is from, one in which they don’t speak the language, is worse. In spite of the danger, they still risk everything to come.
For the most part, few feel any responsibility for what befalls them. Few feel shame or guilt for breaking the law. They feel entitled to be here and do not really understand why they are not allowed to remain. They complain about living conditions when they are free and moving about, and then they complain about the conditions of the detainment facilities and the bureaucracy, if they are caught. They complain about the food, the lack of jobs, the poor pay. However, in truth, sometimes they are abused, not only by the employers and landlords and coyotes, but by the very system that is overseeing their welfare and arrests. Every service has its rotten apples.
The immigrants often do not know the system, they don’t know how to work it and they don’t understand the rules the country has in place. Immigration advisors and lawyers often cheat them or give them incompetent advice. They are sometimes supplied with false papers, as well, so they are forced to live in the shadows. Sometimes, after they are detained, they are not sent back to the country of their origin, but are deposited in the nearest one, like Mexico, without any support system. Sometimes the children do not even speak anything but English, since they never lived anyplace else, but they must go with their parents outside the borders of the United States if they are not legal. The parents knew of the risks and still took them, so who is truly to blame? However, If faced with terrible danger, who has time to follow the legal road? Are there emergency pathways one can follow? Is the illegal and “not so easy route” chosen instead of the more time consuming legal route”, regardless of the danger, because many times they just want the economic advantages offered in the United States which would not be grounds for entry.
I would like to read just one book about an immigrant who knows they have broken the law when they sneak into America, who accepts the fact that they committed a crime and will be punished and deported. Perhaps they will try to come again another time, legally, as others have done, waiting patiently for their turn so as not to cut the line and risk the lives of themselves or their children.
The bond between parent and child, sibling and sibling, neighbor to neighbor, is often tested to its limit. Humans are capable of both terrible and wonderful behavior, cowardice and bravery, of doing evil or acting like saints. All of these personality traits are highlighted in the personal experiences of the characters in the book. There are so many characters and tales that it sometimes gets a bit confusing requiring the reader to look back, but the story is engaging.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
This multi-generational story follows Cuban women, both in America and Cuba, who face abuse, deportation, addiction, political upheaval, and so much more. The book switches POVs and jumps around from the 19th to 21st centuries. It was hard to follow at times, but if you just look at each section as
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a new story you slowly see the lives of the women weaving together. It feels more like a short story collection. As with most books in that vein, I enjoyed some sections more than others. I loved reading about the woman who worked in a cigar factory, but cringed while reading about the underage girl trying to sneak into clubs. The overall theme is one of broken women and what they must do to survive. The writing is beautiful and I look forward to seeing more from the author.
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LibraryThing member EllenH
A family saga, Mother-Daughter relations, Cuban history, immigration policies, & El Salvador, makes a great combination! A little confusing when switching characters, but a well told story.
LibraryThing member Stahl-Ricco
Very well written and rich in detail and characters! Deep and heart wrenching too! This is the story of women, Cuban women, either born in Cuba, or of Cuban descent. The stories jump from character to character, and from time to time, so you'd do well to use the family tree after the table of
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contents, as I did! The women on these pages go through so much, and some of them struggle more than others. But all of the stories are real and strong and all of the women feel heroic. From great-grandmothers down to daughters, the thread of their lives tie them together and tear them apart. A pleasure to read!
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LibraryThing member Nancyjcbs
I'm having difficulty writing a review of this book. I also was unsure if it should receive my 2 star or 3 star rating.
Good points: The writing is beautiful and I could definitely feel the atmosphere of each situation. The stories are compelling as is the way they link together. The multiple
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experiences of Latinas including a Cuban under Batista's leadership, a Cuban refugee, a privileged American of Cuban descent, and an illegal immigrant from El Salvador.
Difficult areas: It's short; probably too short. The reader has to work to see the connection and figure out the timeline. The presentation is really a number of short stories, many of which I wish could have been continued.
Of Women and Salt begins with a letter written by Carmen. We reconnect with Carmen mostly through her interaction with others' stories.
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LibraryThing member Dreesie
There are several different stories in this short (200 page) book: Ana and her mother; Jeanette and her mother Carmen; Carmen and her mother Dolores; Delores' grandmother Cecilia. Obviously the family line works, more or less, but Ana's storyline very much feels forced in.

This is a debut novel, so
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I'm curious what Garcia does next. This very much read like YA to me, in reading level and shallowness (for lack of a better word)--but the drug use, family violence, child abuse--does not suggest YA. High school, yes.
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LibraryThing member AngelaLam
A haunting, lyrical, multi-generational novel that tackles tough topics with grace.
LibraryThing member indygo88
Beginning with Maria Isabel working in a factory in Cuba in 1866, this is the story of several generations of women as they live through war, evolve, and immigrate to Miami, FL. Lots of different themes here: family, troubled relationships, violence, drug use & addiction, immigration & deportation,
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as well as the various roles and strength of women. The story alternates characters and timelines, not necessarily in chronological order. I really did enjoy the way the threads of each woman's life interconnected with those of previous and subsequent relatives, though the order in which they were presented was at times confusing and disorienting, though I understand the why. This was a short novel, and I finished it with somewhat of a feeling of incompleteness, wanting more.
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LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
Very poetic prose, but I had trouble keeping the timelines straight.
LibraryThing member Castlelass
Multigenerational story of mothers and daughters in migrant families, this book reads as a series of interlinked stories. Several stories relate to Jeanette in present-day Miami, recovering from addiction, and her mother, Carmen. Jeanette watches her neighbor, Gloria, taken by Immigration and
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Customs Enforcement (ICE). She takes in the neighbor’s seven-year-old Salvadoran daughter, Ana, who was with her babysitter at the time. Moving back into history, we find one of Jeanette’s ancestors, a female cigar-roller working in Cuba in 1866. Moving forward, Gloria is being held in a detention center in Texas. The stories that follow offer commentary on addictions, abuse, US immigration policies, race, and class. These are stories of strong women making hard choices.

The author has taken on a large topic and covered it in a rather short novel. The prose is elegant. Garcia populates her stories with characters that feel authentic. They avoid categorization or stereotyping. One woman has developed a hard outer shell of protection, and has never shared her struggles with her daughter, leaving the daughter to wonder if she has ever truly known her mother. For me, the main drawback is a feeling that one storyline is not adequately established before moving to another. The overall cohesiveness of the disparate stories into a novel is not quite achieved.

I found it an insightful examination of the variety of challenges faced by immigrant women. It portrays the impact of decisions on future generations. It is an impressive debut.
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LibraryThing member kakadoo202
Writing style/Translation is too choppy for my taste.
LibraryThing member steve02476
Not my usual sort of novel, sad stories of difficult lives and for me, confusing (chapters out of order, time-wise). Had great ending though.


BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Fiction — 2022)
Crook's Corner Book Prize (Longlist — 2022)
Boston Globe Best Book (Fiction — 2021)


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