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The Distant Marvels

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  949 ratings  ·  176 reviews
Maria Sirena tells stories. She does it for money—she was a favorite in the cigar factory where she worked as a lettora—and for love, spinning gossamer tales out of her own past for the benefit of friends, neighbors, and family. But now, like a modern-day Scheherazade, she will be asked to tell one last story so that eight women can keep both hope and themselves alive.

Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 7th 2015 by Europa Editions (first published June 11th 2014)
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Cathrine ☯️
Jan 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: group-challenge
It’s 1963 in Santiago. Hurricane Flora rages and eight women are trapped in an abandoned mansion watched over by a soldier in Castro’s army. To entertain and pass a dangerous night, as well as satisfy a deep personal need, an old woman on the precipice of death begins to tell them stories that begin with her earliest childhood during Cuba’s war for independence.

My group challenge was to read a book or author from the Caribbean. Since Fidel Castro just passed and my own childhood was colored
Diane Barnes
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Mama, como te queiro," my daughter whispers, proving what I already know- -that there can be no safe place, no body that does not grow ill at last, no escape from death or absolute safety from storms. But that love, in its full measure, is a kind of swirling tempest, too, and in its eye, there is stillness and comfort and peace".

I did not intend to read another book about revolution on a small island when I picked this up, since I just finished a novel about war in Sri Lanka, but after I
Jul 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommended to TL by: random sighting at BAM
Perhaps she is right, that there is no reason to suffering, no fair dealing when it comes to meting out bliss and pain. There are just choices, and the echoes of those choices.

The memory of her in that moment, ragged and hostile, remained a vague one for a long time. It became clear only a few months later, when I'd seen enough to make meaning of those blurry shapes. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when the remembrance suddenly sharpened in my head, but it was similar to the feeling of
Amanda Woodward
Jul 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
There are many things to like about this book. It's kind of like the slow burn in some spicy food. It doesn't immediately hit you, but grows as you eat and then lingers for awhile after you're done. One image that has stuck with me is that of the main character's job as a lector reading out loud to workers in tobacco factories. The book also made realize how ignorant I am of Cuban history, something I hope to rectify so if anyone has any good reading recommendations for this, let me know.
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recent-reads
A book that starts in the 1960's and gives the history of Cuba through the eyes of Maria Sirena (now at the end of her life) as she shelters with other women during a hurricane.

Maria Sirena is known for her storytelling skills and so she distracts the women by telling her history which is the history of Cuba and the revolution to achieve freedom from Spain.

I like the way the story weaves the past and the present and the other women's stories add just enough to the storyline.
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful storytelling, a portal into an old (Spanish-American War) Cuba-- an unfamiliar world to me, but the loves, losses, relationships of women are a language I know. Cleverly written epic-within-a-story, both tragedies and yet still holding strength and hope. This would be a fun one to read in a book group, picking apart characters and plot points.
Lindsey Torkko
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book reminded me a bit of Bel Canto, which I haven't read in a long time. The historical life of Cuba was interesting and the family story was fascinating and beautiful. There is so much pain, love, hate, war, healing, all wrapped up in one storyteller's tale. Please read it!
Emily Wiebe
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I’m not one for reviews, but this book truly was the “Cuban epic” it claimed to be. Not only did I leave this novel feeling challenged emotionally, I also left each reading session thinking critically about the low points of history - specifically Cuban - and what lessons lie therein. Acevedo’s incredible gift of story-weaving served to accentuate how rooted this narrative is in the historical events it strove to depict.

In and among the inventive storytelling was one of the author’s most
Kathleen Dixon
Dec 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I'm rather ignorant of many things, and Cuba's history is one of them, so it has been fascinating reading this novel. It's set in 1963 when a group of mostly old women has been evacuated from their homes to escape the devastation of Hurricane Flora. With nothing to do except talk, Maria Sirena finds herself recounting her life story and the tales her mother told her, though the book spends much of its time in the years of the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898). Mind you, the Independence ...more
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-books
If you are looking for more diverse reads or are interested in reading more from an Hispanic author, this story begins in 1963 in Castro's Cuba. A storyteller tries to keep the ladies calm as they ride out the a hurricane in the former Governor's Palace. She tells her own story and that of her father and mother in Cuba's third war for independence. Most of the book circles around this time period.

Some of the themes that are introduced include the importance of storytelling, race, the War for
Caroline Bock
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
A great read for book clubs who like historical fiction -- set during a major hurricane -- Hurricane Flora in Cuba in 1963 -- this is the story of Maria Sirena, child of the first Cuban revolutionaries from Spain, and flashes back to tell the layered story of her parents and her childhood in vivid, often soaring, language. Some shocking details of the past, historically accurate, hooked me and made me think deeply about the history of Cuba--no spoilers, but worth reading for history that ...more
3.5. The writing was very lyrical and the story was interesting. It will definitely make a great discussion. It reminded me a lot of Carlos Ruis Zafon's Shadow of the Wind. I only gave it 3.5 stars because, for my own reading enjoyment, I found the text to be overly descriptive. I know many will love this, and I would definitely recommend, it's just a personal preference and timing
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have long been fascinated by Cuba, first because of Hemingway and later because of the old American cars still on the road and the wonderful music, and I fell in love with this book. Told from a Cuban perspective, we get a glimpse of Cuba from the wars for independence, including the Spanish-American war, and culminating in the advent of Castro Cuba. Told from the first person account of a Cuban woman who lived throughout this era, the story is so compelling that I could barely put it down. ...more
Dorothy Soest
Aug 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a great work of historical fiction. Rich characters, well developed stories within the context of two Cuban revolutions. Informative and engaging. I highly recommend.
Mar 27, 2018 rated it liked it
I was recommended this book a few years ago. It deals with Independence of Cuba indirectly. This is the coming of age smashed with a family saga. The protagonist, Maria Sirena is a gifted folk teller who during a hurricane Flora in Cuba around 1959 confesses to eight women who flee for safety to Casa Velázquez. Beautifully written tale of women struggling to survive hardships of war and dealing with disappointments and grief. Acevedo plays with the imagery of mermaid evoking that dualism of ...more
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Wow! This book touches on a distant memory of my grandmother telling us stories! Stories of her youth, stories of a bygone era... I was lucky enough to to win this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I was also lucky to have it on a transatlantic flight where all my energies were dedicated to the story with very little interruption. What joy! The stories are amazing, the language poetic, and yet the portrayal of the Cuban revolution for independence from Spain was highly informative instilling in me ...more
Feb 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
A lovely story set in Cuba (rare for literature). Maria Sirena Alfonso is a storyteller living in Cuba as Castro is rising into power. Hurricane Flora bears down on the island and many women are forced to evacuate their homes to ride out the storm. Many of the women tell stories and share photos of their children. We learn about Maria's birth to her mother, Illuminada (Lulu) and father Augstin Alfonso who were both radicals with the Cuban Liberation Army fighting against the Spanish for control. ...more
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
Well-written, dramatic, resonant historical setting.
What's not to like?
Overly earnest tone.
Heavy-handed treatment of "storytelling as catharsis" theme.
Historical stories framed by current storytellers are potentially problematic for me. The teller tends to distract from the story instead of enhance it, primarily because it reads like such a contrived device. That was the case here. I had same problem with Rushdie's Midnight's Children, in which every chp starts with yakkety older narrator
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
A terrible storm forces an old old woman to shelter in post-revolutionary Cuba. Waiting through the days of flooding with other old women, she returns to her earlier profession, serving as a lectora -- a reader for cigar makers. She says that she had often infused the books with stories, and, in this house of viejas, she mixes a tale of much truth in relating the story of her life.

She was born when her mother, a character bigger than life, had traveled to New York to meet with those who were
Andrew Shipe
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was one of the wRites of Spring books for Broward College North Campus in the spring semester. Because a primary goal of that program is to encourage literary reading among community college students and invite the authors for talks and discussion, the books selected are usually contemporary novels of literary merit by an author who represents the diversity of the student body.

With that in mind, this novel seemed like a good choice. The style itself is easy enough for the students to
Jane Buchbauer
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Distant Marvels is an interesting, somewhat historical novel, told in first person by a character whose family had fought to liberate the island of Cuba from Spain before the Spanish American War. Beginning with the evacuation of a group of old, Cuban women from their home during a hurricane in the post-Castro 1960s, the story of one woman, Maria Sirena, is told in flashbacks as she relates the facts and legends of her life. It is a sad, somewhat disturbing story of the difficulties ...more
Susan Beecher
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fine novel about an old woman in modern day Cuba telling the story of her life during the struggle of Cuba for its independence from Spain.
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
really good pacing and short chapters made this read smoothly. it was an engrossing story of tragic love and family.
"There is only a story I try to tell myself to pass the time, about a mermaid, and a girl, and love building upon love over the course of a life."
World Literature Today
This book was featured in the Nota Benes section of the November/December 2015 issue of World Literature Today Magazine.
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Beautiful, entertaining, & heart-rending.
Jan Bednarczuk
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2018
"I've seen it before, what mothers and daughters can do to one another during those terrible adolescent years. Grief must be at the bottom of it, for what is sadder for a parent than seeing her daughter shedding girlhood drop by precious drop? And what is more terrifying for a child than to doubt her mother, to begin to see her as a human with faults instead of as a goddess?"

This is a book about revolutionary-era Cuba from the 1890s to the 1960s, and it is a book about storytelling, but mostly
Johanna Markson
May 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Distant Marvels, Chantel Acevedo
Beautifully written and totally irresistible. The perfect historic fiction - focused on a portion of history I know nothing about and doing it with wonderful, strong women at the forefront of the story.
Cuba has just had a communist revolution but on a remote part of the island an old woman is watching a storm approach and doesn't want to heed the warnings and leave her home to go somewhere safer. She is ready to die. But, as the storm gets closer, the woman
Angie Simmonds
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Maria Sirena is an elderly woman who lives in Cuba. A hurricane threatens to ravage the island but she does not want to evacuate her home. Finally forced to evacuate with a bus load of other women, they travel inland to a palatial home where they are sequestered in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Here Maria Sirena, who once worked as a lectór in a cigar factory, tells stories of her birth and her years growing up with her mother Lulu and her father Augustín during the war in Cuba. The women listen ...more
Jenee Rager
This is hands down one of the very best books I've read in a long, long time. It was beautiful, poetic, informative, and just so hard to put down. I loved every moment and didn't want it to end.

In 1963 a hurricane is bearing down on Cuba. Maria Sirena is forcefully removed from her home, where she had prepared herself to die, and bused to the governor's mansion with several other elderly women, and a young cancer patient, to wait out the storm. One of the women is her former friend, who quit
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Called "a master storyteller" by Kirkus Reviews, Chantel Acevedo is the author of Love and Ghost Letters, A Falling Star, The Distant Marvels, which was a finalist for the 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and most recently, The Living Infinite, hailed by Booklist as a "vivid and enthralling tale of love and redemption." Her essays have appeared in Vogue and Real Simple, among ...more
“By contrast, I feel rather calm, as if I have swallowed the eye of the storm.” 1 likes
“Then, putting his palm on top of my head, like a warm hat, he whispered, "Pay attention. Be a person for whom love is not lost.” 0 likes
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