The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
Going into this book I had no idea what to expect, but what I was confronted with was a deeply complex family saga about the power of separation and (re)unification. The Mortifications is a story about a family, three quarters of them, who leave Cuba and their revolution enthused father to move to Connecticut in the hopes of a better life. This one event changes the entire course of their lives and its echoes reverberate until the very last page. While they adapt to live in the cold suburbs of Connecticut, their lives afterward include struggles and inner conflict. Just as they begin to settle in and believe that they have moved on, the symbolic ghost of their father returns and beckons them back to force them to confront themselves and the wounds they think have healed. What they learn, throughout their lives, among other things, is that the power of family is a compelling ghost, promises can haunt you, and it requires a journey to find your home.
The story is set in a vastly different climate than I am used to, and these differences coalesce into a wealth of details and a rich setting. Throughout this family drama are nuggets of wisdom, introspective moments that explore the meaning of family, loss, and fate. It was impossible for me to read the story without thinking of The Odyssey and even now, I think about the possible connections between the two characters. Ulises and his fascination with classical texts introduce an interesting juxtaposition between the ‘pagan’ nature of the Greeks and Romans versus the heavy emphasis on Christianity. Isabel’s story of faith and personal vows to her father provides a contrast to Ulises’ ambiguous relationship with religion and his loyalty to his mother.
Isabel, Ulises, and Soledad are fascinatingly complex characters and their journeys represent the power of individual and family growth. No characters are superficial, all have depth and a unique personal history, ranging from the Dutchmen to Inez. The characters are intriguing from Isabel’s navigation of her spirituality and promises to Soledad’s new and old loves and finally with Ulises’ understand of fate and fathers. I could emphasize the most with Ulises’ quest to keep his family together. I found it hardest to understand Isabel’s character: her actions or her motivations. All of these family members had their own strengths and weaknesses. Isabel is incredibly dedicated and almost fearless, Soledad is courageous and understanding, while Ulises is steadfast and patient.
The progression of their relationships tackle old wounds that refuse to heal and the closure we never knew we needed but, that we seek aimlessly nonetheless. Throughout their lives, and from the very beginning of the novel, each of the family members explores the question: are we the agents of our own fate? They struggle with how they can influence it, fight it, and ultimately fulfill their own destiny, asking do we find fate or does fate find us?
The story steadily moves toward an ending of resolution, vows that are remade, and the inheritance of our family roles. Nothing sums up the story more than “fate is family, and family is fate” (Palacio). To truly understand the meaning of that sentence, one must read the book and discover the nature of destiny, family (re)membering, and personal belief. The strength of this novel lies in its characters who are characterized with intriguing quirks and human fears. They are the ones to stay with you as you lift the last pages and their voices echo even after you close the cover. Just because we leave something behind does not mean it leaves us.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for a review from Blogging for Books.
Book cover image from Blogging for Books.
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