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Broken Paradise    by Cecilia Samartin order for
Broken Paradise
by Cecilia Samartin
Order:  USA  Can
Atria, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Joan Burton

Cuba is the largest island in the Greater Antilles. White powdered beaches and turquoise waters form a playground for Nora and her cousin Alicia, two young girls with privileged lives, growing up in Havana. They frequent lavish dinner parties, swim at their grandparents' Varadero Beach home, and dream about their futures.

Then in 1956 comes revolution and Castro's rise to power changes life for everyone. Religion is denied, there is a shortage of food, and much sickness. Many people apply for passports to leave the country. Some are lucky and can leave while others are left behind. Nora leaves Cuba with her parents to settle in California, while Alicia's parents decide to stay in Havana. The two girls write letters to each other and tell of the new lives that have been forced on them. Nora has to adjust to American ways and culture, and learn a new language. Most Cubans settled in Miami so Nora's family feels alone on the West coast. Alicia's father joins the revolution, her family life takes a turn for the worst, and soon all she has is hope.

Decades pass and Nora's life is good. She has earned a degree in teaching, married an American, and has her own home. Letters from Alicia continue to tear at Nora's heart, so she decides to return to Cuba in 1981 against her parents' wishes. Nora cannot believe the state of the country or the people. Buildings are crumbling, people stand in long lines for hours for a loaf of bread, and prostitution is rampant. Alicia is living in a dilapidated apartment with her young daughter, and Nora cannot help compare her life to her cousin's.

Nora and Alicia talk of old times when they were young and life was carefree. Nora soon realizes that Alicia is very sick and needs medical attention. Alicia decides it is time to open her heart to her cousin and tell her things she has tried to keep hidden from the family. Soon Nora has a decision to make and finds she is torn between home in Cuba and home in the United States. Broken Paradise is a beautiful story of family love and the ties that bind.

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