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The Distant Marvels

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,067 ratings  ·  186 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
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 ·  1,067 ratings  ·  186 reviews

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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 exper
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 puttin
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. ...more
Mar 07, 2020 rated it it was ok

I thought Europa Editions might be a little more literary than some other imprints. (I guess it was that beguiling word Europa.) This novel, firmly on the terrain of Oprah's Book Club picks, suggests not.

We have a sort of frame story. The first person narrator, the octogenarian Maria Sirena, begins to narrate in the present tense in 1963 Cuba. A severe hurricane is looming and she and a group of other women are evacuated into an abandoned mansion on higher ground. To calm the group, and because
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! ...more
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 intere
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 Move ...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 In
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 involve ...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 ...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 t ...more
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. Pl ...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 stro ...more
The writing in this novel is amazing as far as language, but due to the nature of the story and a few scenes that don't really do much for the plot and story, etc, it is three stars. It's a number of things, and not easily pigeon-holed, but one could call it a literary, war, family, historical-fiction, coming of age book, although I may have missed something here.

The present time of the story is set during Hurricane Flora in 1963. Forced to evacuate, María Sirena ends up telling her story, first
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 remind
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 ang
Emi Bevacqua
May 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Maria Sirena is a professional story teller in Cuba, despite having entertained Cuban factory workers with chapters of her life throughout her career, there are secrets she has saved for a lifetime. Now, in 1963, trapped in a roomful of elderly evacuees during Hurricane Flora, Maria shares her family history steeped in revolutionary drama, and even bares bits of her soul to what she considers her final audience.

I liked the stories inside stories (even though they got confusing sometimes, or red
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 g
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 experien ...more
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ She was a daughter, a mother, a revolutionary, a storyteller. Maria is evacuated from her home during Hurricane Flora’s ravage upon Cuba in 1963. While sheltered in the governor’s mansion, the women share stories to alleviate their fear. Maria tells her life story in heart-breaking detail, not only in an act of contrition but also in hopes that she will not be forgotten. Deeply moving, folk story like prose. Simply fantastic.
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Beautiful, entertaining, & heart-rending.
"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." ...more
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.
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.
World Literature Today
This book was featured in the Nota Benes section of the November/December 2015 issue of World Literature Today Magazine.
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Play Book Tag: The Distant Marvels by Chantel Acevedo 3+ stars 1 7 May 10, 2021 10:35AM  

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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

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