Tag Archives: Derek Palacio

Book Review: The Mortifications by Derek Palacio (3/5)

19 Dec

Here we have yet another Midwest Literary Walk buy, this time from 2017. I was doubly interested in Palacio’s story because it focuses on a Cuban family and Cuba is one place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. I was happy to finally nab this one on audio.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Mortifications by Derek Palacio

Summary from Goodreads:

In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.

Each struggles and flourishes in their own way: Isabel, spiritually hungry and desperate for higher purpose, finds herself tethered to death and the dying in uncanny ways. Ulises is bookish and awkwardly tall, like his father, whose memory haunts and shapes the boy’s thoughts and desires. Presiding over them both is Soledad. Once consumed by her love for her husband, she begins a tempestuous new relationship with a Dutch tobacco farmer. But just as the Encarnacións begin to cultivate their strange new way of life, Cuba calls them back. Uxbal is alive, and waiting.

I read enough Hispanic literature that I should be ready for the magical realism that’s normally present but it catches me by surprise each time. There was a sense of detachment in the narration emphasized by the 3rd person omniscient voice. It almost felt like the narrator was making up the story about characters he’d invented instead of telling a story about people he knew. The story covered a lot of time and the detached voice let the jumps happen smoothly. There were parts that were unbelievably magical and others that were starkly realistic. They contrasted well and I kept my interest in the book, but I never felt as engaged as I wanted to be because of the underlying unbelievability of the story.

Ulises felt very real and I was glad he narrated the story. Soledad felt real as well but Isabel and Uxbal were almost larger than life. Isabel, in particular, was hard to wrap my head around because I didn’t know if she was an angel. I kept expecting her to do something impossible that would give me a final push over the edge. She kept me on my toes and I always wondered what it was she was trying to do because every decision she made seemed out of character for the person I thought was being developed.

Henri was my favorite character. I felt his love for Soledad and the pain it caused him to see her suffer and to feel he was being pushed away. I think he realized he could never replace Uxbal but he was going to try his darndest for as long as he could. He was very industrious and a good step-father for Ulises, even if he never legally had that title. I think it bothered him that Soledad wouldn’t marry him though I don’t remember it ever coming up.

Soledad was the most relatable character for me. She was very hardworking and a little bit emotionally distant, two qualities I see in myself. I am very much a ‘nose to the grindstone’ kind of person and that quality can keep me from being intimate with more than a handful of people. I related to Soledad’s laser focus on providing for her children, even at her own expense. I think she wanted to let Henri into her heart more, but her focus on Isabel and Ulises prevented this.

Derek Palacio
Image via the author’s website

Isabel’s time in Cuba was the most interesting to me. I don’t know if I particularly liked it, but it kept my attention. Her behavior seemed to be almost self-destructive and I wanted to take care of her because it felt like she wouldn’t care for herself. She changed a lot during this time, giving up all her vows and realizing a lot about her father and changing her relationship with him. I was so interested to see what would happen to Isabel that I lost interest in Ulises.

Soledad’s illness was hard to read about, mostly because I liked her character so much. I couldn’t bare for anything bad to happen to her and hearing how her body deteriorated and her mind changed was hard for me. She had been so strong and she didn’t know how to be weak. After dedicating herself to her children, she didn’t know how to lean on them. It was trying to read.

The audiobook was narrated by William DeMeritt and I thought he did a great job. From my ear, he had a good pronunciation of the Spanish words (though I’m not as well versed in a Cuban accent so I can’t speak to that). He kept a rather dark tone through the book but I think that was appropriate for a book with as much tragedy as this one.

Uxbal pulls strings throughout the book well before he appears in person. Family isn’t something you can forget about or leave behind easily. It’s inside you and a part of you. Isabel struggles with that for much of the book. A promise made to her fanatical father in childhood chased her into her adulthood and wouldn’t let go. Soledad couldn’t forget about Uxbal, especially with Ulises who looked so much like him at her side. Family sinks its teeth in and never lets go.

Writer’s Takeaway: Sometimes, you need things to work out magically for your story to work. Magical realism is one way to do that and this is a good example of minimal magical realism in a way that barely feels like a tall tale or coincidence. It was just the right amount of magic and reality to feel fantastical but also feel like it could happen to you.

I enjoyed the book but failed to connect with it in a meaningful way. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
ARC: The Mortifications by Derek Palacio | Poppy Reads Alot
Cuba is Both Near and Far in Derek Palacio’s ‘The Mortifications’ | Chicago Review of Books

WWW Wednesday, 20-November-2019

20 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: Total changeover this week! I started reading Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley on my phone. I’ve been trying to read more writing books lately as I get ready to submit my first novel and work my way through NaNo on a second. We’ll see if this provides any help.
I was able to start The Maximum Security Book Club by Mikita Brottman on audio. This is a shorter one than I thought so I should move through this pretty quickly. I’m looking forward to seeing how Brottman structures this book because it could concentrate on the literature or the men and I’m not sure yet what she’ll pick.
I also started Not Without my Daughter by Betty Mahmoody as planned. I’m a little early in it to make a judgment but I will say I missed reading memoirs and I’m glad to be reading one again.

Recently finished: I finished My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart a little unexpectedly. I didn’t realize so many of the final pages were not part of the text so I finished it mid-lunch one day. I was a little disappointed in this book. It wasn’t really a cookbook nor a memoir. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.
I also wrapped up Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine finally. I liked the beginning 200 pages of this book but the last 150 feel flat to me and I left it feeling disappointed. I believe it’s part of a trilogy and maybe more time should have been spent on the second half of the book and another book added to the series. I gave the book Three out of Five Stars.
I also wrapped up The Mortifications by Derek Palacio and was, yet again, a little disappointed in it. The magical realism was stronger as the book went on and it was an element I wasn’t a huge fan of. I usually avoid magical realism and I didn’t realize it would so prevalent here. You may notice a trend here: I gave the book Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I think it’s an audiobook I’ll need next and I’ll have to go with The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. This will help me wrap up my When Are You Reading? Challenge. I also want some more YA in my life, it’s been a while and I miss it.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 13-November-2019

13 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I think Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine will be done by next week. I really enjoyed the first half of the novel but it’s slowed down for me a lot and I’m dragging a bit through the last 100 pages. I thought it would be done sooner but oh well.
I made a great surge with My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart. I had a slow conference with a lot of downtime to read a silly cookbook and this was perfect because the frequent interruptions weren’t a problem. I’m optimistic about getting this one finished this month.
With just one audiobook, I’m moving through The Mortifications by Derek Palacio pretty quickly. The audiobook is well done. I’m noticing a lot of subtle magical realism elements that are often found in Hispanic literature. It’s not a favorite of mine, but I’m still enjoying it and learning a lot about Cuban culture from it, too.

Recently finished: I loved Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie and I’m so glad there are more books in this series. I recommend this book series a lot because I think it deserves more attention than it’s gotten. It’s funny and well-plotted. I gave the book Four out of Five Stars.

I’ve only posted once since last week and thankfully it was a book review (as I’m growing behind on those). I posted my review of When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan on Thursday. I gave the book Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I’m still reeling from all the free time I have to read what I want! I need to be ready with an audiobook and a physical book soon. For my audiobook, I think I’m going to listen to The Maximum Security Book Club by Mikita Brottman. I saw this one at Powell’s and talked myself out of buying it but still wanted to enjoy it eventually. It seems like now is a great time.
I’m also going to get ready with a physical book from the library. The next on my list is Not Without my Daughter by Betty Mahmoody. I’ve heard this is a crazy-true story and I look forward to enjoying it!


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 6-November-2019

6 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’m happy with how far I’ve come int Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine. The story is a little slow for me, but I’m still enjoying it. I like that Simon is living in Detroit during the 20s, definitely a setting for me!
I’ve slowed down a bit with My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart because I’m making work friends that I eat lunch with. It’s a balance between having people to talk to in the office and getting some reading done. I can go back to being anti-social once I have friends to talk to other times in the day.
I’m devouring Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie with my longer commute. I love this series and I’m looking forward to seeing how this one ends. I have a feeling there’s going to be a big twist! I’m counting on it actually.

Recently finished: Nothing new finished this week. I started doing NaNoWriMo on Friday so that’s taking up quite a bit of time. Reviews may be delayed as well, but WWW Wednesday will not falter! I love hosting this meme too much to let it drop.

Reading Next: I need to make a decision on this one. I think I’ll wait a little bit before pushing to finish my Historical Fiction challenge. I realized I’m done with book club meetings until January and I’ll take this time to tackle some that have been on my TBR for a while. My next audiobook will be The Mortifications by Derek Palacio. I met Palacio at the Midwest Literary Walk in 2017 so this has been here for a while.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Midwest Literary Walk 2017: Part 1

9 May

Palacio, Ho Davis, and moderator.

I’m very fortunate to live reasonably close to Chelsea, Michigan, home of the Midwest Literary Walk. I’ve decided to split the day into two posts because there’s way too much to share for one!

My friend Amy and I met up again for this event. It was a bit overcast, but a nice day compared to the weather we’ve been having in Southeast Michigan. The first event was Peter Ho Davis and Derek Palacio. I thought these two made for an odd pairing, but their books shared very similar themes. Both men wrote books about immigrants and each shares a heritage with the group they wrote about. The men saw it as a way to explore their heritage.

Ho Davis wrote in The Fortunes about Chinese immigration to the US. He went to China to do research for the book and had the odd feeling of not being Chinese. In the US and UK, people see him as Chinese instead of Welsh (where his other parent comes from). In China, he wasn’t seen as Chinese and it fostered a feeling of rejection. Ho Davis and Palacio both expressed anxieties about having the right to write about their cultures. Both had a generation’s remove from the people and places they were writing about and feared that they would not represent the place well.

Ho Davis’s book is split into several parts. He drew from historical figures for some of his characters, especially in the first part. He was able to incorporate some historical events as well. He pointed out to us that during the Gold Rush, much of the Chinese immigration was male, men coming to work. A lot of recent Chinese immigration has been through international adoption which has been highly female. I’d never thought about gender waves of immigration before. Speaking of being a writer, Ho Davis said that his parents stopped telling him as many stories as they had in his youth. Also, they’ve begun correcting some of the ones they used to tell. Oh, the power of the pen.

Derek Palacio didn’t go to Cuba until after The Mortifications was finished. He’d questioned if he could be Cuban if he’d never been to Cuba. The two discussed a feeling common to immigrants or the children of immigrants of being caught between two identities, one from the homeland and another from the new home. They both wanted to write about how impossible it is to leave your homeland behind. It comes with you and you have to adjust to where you end up.

Palacio’s characters did not live in Miami as one would expect with Cuban immigrants. Palacio didn’t grow up in Florida himself and put them in the Northeast to make them more relatable to himself. I was really intrigued by Palacio’s story especially considering my education in Spanish language, culture, and literature. I was surprised to read in his bio that his wife is Claire Vaye Watkins, the author whose book I got at the 2016 event. I asked Palacio for some advice on writing and told him I wanted to be a novelist. His advice was not to save something ‘good’ for the end of the book. He said to throw it in and see what happens. Maybe what comes from that event will be what’s really of interest.

I’ll be back Thursday with Part 2 of this event. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!