AFAReads: “Of Women and Salt” by Gabriela Garcia
The novel, a debut from Bay Area–based Gabriela Garcia
In 2016, I visited Cuba as part of the first wave of travelers to the island following the reopening of its American embassy I loved everything about the country: the pastel colors of Cienfuegos; the cross-island bus whose driver grocery-shopped at farms along the way; the vendors singing out their wares in Havana. But I’ve always remembered the Havana walking tour we booked. In part, because it occurred on Election Day in 2016 (ouch), but more critically because our tour guide talked at length about women’s roles and rights prior to, and during, the Cuban Revolution, both the
tragedies Cuban women endured (lack of employment access) and the rights they slowly gained as time marched on.
Reading Of Women and Salt (Flatiron Books, 2021), our June AFAReads selection—presented in partnership with the United Nations Association of New York—took me back to that tour, to the curtain pulled back on the lives of women on the island. The novel, a debut from Bay Area–based Gabriela Garcia, revolves around five generations of Cuban women, and a mother-daughter duo from Mexico, whose lives get intertwined with those of Jeanette—the youngest in the line—and her mother, Carmen.
Courtesy of Flatiron Books
Told through alternating perspectives, the novel takes us from Cuba, where in 1866 María Isabel—Jeanette’s great-great-great grandmother—gives birth to a daughter as the seeds of a rebellion against the Spanish government are sown, to Miami in 2019. In the years between, we hear from Carmen, who fled to the U.S. to escape her mother; from Jeanette, who’s struggling with addiction in the wake of a toxic family secret; and from Ana, the daughter of a Mexican woman detained in Texas, who befriends Jeanette.
It’s a rich (and yes, tragic) novel—one I read in nearly one gulp, only pausing to put it down when life required other tasks. While the novel is squarely focused on these women’s lives, Garcia ties in issues of immigration and migration, the sometimes tumultuous bonds between mother and daughter, and the secrets we keep. Cuba and Florida are the humid, colorful backdrops for most of the novel, with scenes set in Texas and Mexico sprinkled in.
Author photo by Andria Lo
Garcia, who was raised in Miami, drew on her own experience as the daughter of immigrants from Cuba and Mexico, as well as her work as a migrant justice organizer, fighting to prevent detained women from being deported. Some of her novel came out of this work (she would write scenes as a way of processing what she’d seen at detention centers), as well as her parents’ immigration experiences. “My parents had very different immigration paths to the U.S. and were treated very differently by the U.S. and its systems,” she said in an interview, “so I was always really aware of those differences and also how Latinx identity is not a monolith.”
We’ll be discussing much of the above with Gabriela during a Zoom Q&A on June 30 at 4 p.m. PST/7 p.m. ET, in partnership with the United Nations Association of New York. Please feel free to join, even if you haven’t read or finished the book. Register, and submit your questions, here.
Yours in literary wanderings,
We would like to thank Aislyn Greene Deputy editor for the press release.