'Of Women and Salt', a genealogy of sisterhood
Five generations of strong women and three countries are the protagonists of Gabriela García's debut, a novel that aims to be an antidote to the "myths" of migration and Latinidad.
This is the story of Jeanette, a Cuban-American girl raised in Miami who struggles, like many young women of her generation, with two dangerous addictions: drugs and toxic love. But it is also the story of Ana, whose life is turned upside down when her mother is deported. And of Dolores, who does her best to protect herself and her son from her husband, a drunken and violent man. And of course, of Carmen, Cuban and migrant in the United States, who raises Jeanette while she fights her addiction with her.
Like a spiral and sometimes like a family tree whose roots rise and twine with its branches, Of Women and Salt (Flatiron Books, 2021), Gabriela Garcia's dazzling first novel, begins in 1866 in a cigar factory on the island, and jumps through time and space, to tell of a lineage of strong women united by survival and the trauma of uprooting.
A beautiful and very different narrative about migration in a feminine key, because men, as the author explained to the Chicago Tribune, are "peripheral" elements. They are barely there and they are not, but women remain.
García, who was raised in a family of pure women, many of them single mothers, experienced the strong bond between them as a child. She drew inspiration from her own lineage, straddling Mexico, Cuba and the United States, to write Of Women and Salt, which was originally intended to be her Master of Fine Arts thesis at Purdue University, but ended up leaving the academy to enter bookstores on 30 March.
In 2014, while Gabriela García was writing parts of what would later become Of Women and Salt, she was working as an organizer for migrants so they wouldn't be deported.
That experience gave her the opportunity to visit women who were often locked up in detention centers like the South Texas Family Residential Center, the largest in the country.
Gabriela sometimes scribbled poetry about her conversations with detainees or what she observed in these places. Notes and an immersion into one side of the migrant experience that would be used to write her book - though she didn't know it at the time.
But if there is something really special about this novel, it is the author's attempt to capture all the nuances of Latino and migrant identity, which is much broader, diverse and not always as dramatic as we have been told. Nothing is monolithic, says the author.
A first generation Cuban and Mexican migrant, Gabriela, born in New York - she moved to Miami at the age of five -, grew up experiencing this dual sense of belonging and not belonging to a country, and the constant trips to Cuba in her childhood made her see the migration phenomenon from different places.
"I think a lot of the immigrant experience is determined by class, race and circumstance," she told the Chicago Tribune. "My parents had very different immigration paths to the U.S., and the country and its systems treated them very differently, so I was always very aware of those differences and also how Latinx identity is not a monolith."