Book Shorts

DON'T JUDGE THIS this book by its cheerful, tropical yellow cover and funny title; In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd is freighted with sorrow. The heaviness is that of the exiled, in this case Cubans forced to leave their homeland and settle in Miami—those who are fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate) enough to make it. They feel the weight of their displacement as keenly as Dante did, and the American experience is likewise that of various circles of hell. Characters drift from story to story in these interrelated short tales of woe, confronting madness, ghosts, and a chasm of communication between the old life and the new that seemingly can never be bridged. Ana Men鮤ez employs some extraordinary writing to convey the depth of this gap—particularly as it slowly ruins relationships—and her descriptions occasionally sing: "I have a portrait of my father. . . . He is three years old. . . . His hair is slick and thick and he's parted it himself on the right. Behind him, to his left and propped against a coconut tree, is a baseball bat. It's shiny and smooth like a new idea." But the prose is also sometimes overblown and perhaps not quite strong enough to keep the reader engaged through such unrelenting despair. Touches of humor, as in the title, which is taken from a joke a man sadly tells while playing dominos, are quickly lost in the morass of quiet and not-so-quiet desperation, in the profound aloneness of the uprooted. "We've been in this country for almost forty years," a party guest finally says by way of an empty explanation to a confused old woman; the implication is that every day has been marked, every hour suffered as eternal outsiders. Each page of this book bears the same mark of suffering.

Bethany Jean Clement

bclement@seattleweekly.com

Ana Men鮤ez reads from her novel at Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main, 624-6600, 7:30 p.m. Fri., June 15.

 
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