When they are printed in black and white on the pages of our history books, moments become mere figures and dates and lose the thousands of individual stories that make that moment possible. Luis Gonzalez brings his reader into the daily life and confused mind of one girl in the midst of social and political upheaval in Luz, the first novel in his epic story. Set against the backdrop of 1994 Cuba, Clara’s voice stands alone as one girl, dealing with a burden far larger than even the political atmosphere she is fighting to change.
Gonzalez relies on a heavily stylized form of storytelling, while maintaining the use of a casual tone and language that, at first, can feel very jarring. The blend of epic style with everyday language seems awkward and inelegant in places. This effect feels intentional on behalf of Gonzalez, in order to blend the epic with the everyday. The essential question driving this piece seems to be that “the answers to existence [are] found by looking inward rather than outward.” As Clara deals with the very real battles of her everyday life in the midst of social upheaval, Gonzalez weaves in a re-envisioned look at Biblical figures equally as frustrated with their own limitations and obligations. Instead of serving as a contrast between this simple young girl and the epic stories of her childhood, Gonzalez, instead, seems to be suggesting that our saints and heroes may very well in fact speak the same language as we do. We all have something to connect to, those thousands that become numbers in our history books each have a story and their own conflicted minds and decisions to make. Gonzalez takes his time to let you into Clara’s mind as her life changes and priorities shift in an attempt to remind us that at the heart of every epic story, there lies the human heart.
Although this novel is rather long and lags in places, it is well worth the commitment. It is very rare to come across an author who attempts a story of this scale, but keeps the humanity of his characters firmly in place. The Biblical allusions never feel forced or distract from the story, and underneath it all, Clara’s world is never neglected. A truly worthwhile read, and I anticipate the second testament of Clara’s story.
LESLIE’S REVIEW — not approved by author
Luz throws light on the political and social scene in Cuba 1994, when, for the first time in 35 years, Cubans were openly revolting against Castro’s regime and the government was making no attempt to thwart the escape of refugees. Amidst the anarchy and emotion of this situation, we meet the novel’s young protagonist, Clara, who is determined to leave her homeland, family, and worldly possessions with her husband, Rigo, and a few friends—bound for the U.S. on a homemade raft.
Luz doesn’t lack for well-painted imagery of Havana during this momentous summer, nor for the telling, introspective musings of Clara, nor for the imaginative plot twist that lands in Clara’s lap on the eve of her plan to escape Cuba. What Luz does lack for, unfortunately, is an editor to pare down the unreasonably lengthy episodes (fifteen pages devoted to dusk, for example), redundant information, and a confounding effusion of alliterative sentences: “…there was no dissolving Dusk’s dogged determination.” The sentiment and the visuals put forth are lovely, but the execution is heavy-handed, distracting the reader with a wordiness that inhibits immersion into the story. This could be called out as the novel’s predominant flaw.
By the end, after trudging through a lot of Clara’s inner monologue and family drama regarding her decision to remain in Cuba (and even some Heavenly family drama, as well), but very little forward-moving plot, you only learn that Clara’s miracle will be realized in the next book. Luz may mean “light” in Spanish, but 553 pages is anything but light reading, and it’s more than enough time to achieve what Gonzalez has apparently spent 1000+ pages on. Luz has all the setting, story, and imaginative potential to shine, but I, for one, wish that Gonzalez would have consulted an editor and produced this as a single, succinctly luminous tome.
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