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The Mortifications

3.22  ·  Rating details ·  556 ratings  ·  177 reviews
Derek Palacio’s stunning, mythic novel marks the arrival of a fresh voice and a new chapter in the history of 21st century Cuban-American literature.

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.
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Tim Duggan Books
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Average rating 3.22  · 
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Elyse  Walters
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
A cuban American story....

Soledad and her two twin children, Ulises, and Isabel come into the United States in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift ....a mass emigration of Cubans who traveled from Cuba's Mariel Harbor to the United States looking to gain asylum by taking refuge on the grounds of the Peruvian embassy, the Cuban Government announced that anyone who wanted to leave could do so. The ensuring mass migration was organized by Cuban-Americans with the agreement of Cuban president Fidel Cast
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it

Derek Palacio’s 2016 novel about a splintered Cuban family who emigrates to the United States as a part of the Mariel boat lift in the 1980s is at once poignant, thought provoking, maddening, heartbreaking and at time gut wrenching. But it is also a testament to faith and crossing boundaries both in the ocean and in the human heart. Palacio has sang a song of both family solidarity and intense loneliness.

This is also a dramatic character study of five lives: Soledad, the mother and est
Sep 21, 2016 rated it liked it
2.5 stars. I had such high expectations for The Mortifications. Having spent some time in Cuba, I have a predilection for books set in Cuba or about Cubans. Cuba’s complex history and political situation make for interesting fiction – whether it’s a story set in Cuba or a story about Cubans who have immigrated elsewhere. And that’s what I expected when I started The Mortifications. So expectations may have hurt my approach to this book, but ultimately I am left disappointed. Sometimes I can reca ...more
Angela M
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: setting-aside
At first I really liked it . The writing is good . Then I felt a little bored but got interested again . I was expecting an immigrant experience story and it doesn't quite feel like that, but more of a dysfunctional family saga. Many layers - philosophical in some ways , who we are , what we want and why , how our roots affect us .
I wanted to like this more than I did ,to understand it more than I did but I'm giving it up for now at just over the hallway point . Maybe I'll come back to it . For
Book Riot Community
This debut novel about a family divided during the Mariel boatlift is the most engaging novel I’ve read this year. The loyalties and dualities that push together and pull apart the Encarnacion family are complex and wondrous, yet acutely believable. While the family patriarch, Uxbal, is left in Cuba to lead a sparse revolutionary sect, his wife Soledad and children, Isabel and Ulises, head north to Connecticut. They are never able to abandon Uxbal’s gigantic presence, which leads his family to t ...more
Mar 09, 2017 rated it liked it
This novel explores the ties of family, religion and place. The Encarnacion family is torn apart by the father’s commitment to a counter-revolution in Cuba. In a dramatic departure, Soledad takes the couple's twin children, Isobel and Ulises, to the safety of the US. For Soledad, Isobel and Ulises contact with father/husband, Uxbal, is severed, but emotional ties are not.

Both the beginning and the ending are beautifully written. In the middle the writing is secondary to some jarring plot elemen
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Thomas by: LibraryThing
This was a very dense book, and I took a long time to read it(14 days), sometimes reading only 10 pages in a day. The book starts with a Cuban refugee, Soledad Encarnacion, and her two children Isabel and Ulises, living in Connecticut. They left Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Soledad's husband and father of her 2 children, Uxbal, remained in Cuba and wanted her to leave Isabel with him. He considers himself a rebel against Castro's regime and hides in the hills near their home of Buey Arr ...more
Lolly K Dandeneau
Jul 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
“Ulises considered the history of his mother’s sex life: he assumed that, since they’d arrived in the States, she’d not been with a man until Willems. That was five years of physical famine followed now by two months of feast.”
(my blog

When Soledad flees Cuba and her husband’s revolutionary ideas with their two children, rather than settling in a familiar place like Miami, she chooses the brutal cold of Connecticut. Ulises assumed they would make a ‘large,
Nov 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In 1980, in response to a failing economy, Fidel Castro announced that Cubans were free to leave Cuba through the Mariel port. The Mariel Boatlift transported 125,000 Cubans in 1,700 boats.

Derek Palacio's first novel The Mortifications tells the story of Soledad Encarnacion, wife to a Cuban rebel, who decided to take her twin children Ulises and Isabel on the boatlift to America for a new life. They settle in Connecticut and seem to be adjusting to their new lives, but internally they drift apa
Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is the story of the Encarnacion family. Soledad leaves her husband, Uxbal, who refuses to leave Cuba. Soledad takes her twins, Ulises and Isabel, to Hartford, Conn. where a cousin had some connections. There Soledad becomes a court reporter and falls in love with a Dutch tobacco farmer, Henri. When the children are older, Ulises works in Henri’s tobacco fields, while Isabel becomes a nun and works with the dying. They settle into their new life until years later, they receive a letter from ...more
Rachel León
Jan 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
(Maybe 3.5 stars, but I'm rounding up because this novel is beautifully written)

Derek Palacio's novel focuses on a Cuban family who is separated when the mother immigrates to America with her children and the father stays behind. The plot (and character development) is less compelling to me than the language. At times it's so well-written I was hypnotized by the prose. Overall it's a good novel.
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
Rather than animating the characters or the story, the somewhat overly flowery prose just made me drowsy. Bailed at around the 15% mark.
Roger DeBlanck
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
The haunting and tender beauty of Derek Palacio's debut novel The Mortifications has drawn comparisons to the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but the wounded depths of his characters and the intimate moods of his settings remind me even more of Michael Ondaatje. Also, his ability to capture the struggles of Cuban immigrants parallels that of Oscar Hijuelos. Palacio deserves mention among these great writers because his novel has the hypnotic power to leave you enraptured and in awe over the comp ...more
Dec 10, 2016 rated it liked it
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 l ...more
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a story about a mother and her young son and daughter who immigrate from Cuba in the 1960's. They settle in Conn. Mother becomes involved with a tobacco grower from Denmark. She is still married to a man left behind in Cuba. The mother and the Dane have a complicated and passionate relationship. In the meantime, the children are growing up and their coming of age stories are an important part of the book. The love of county, importance of family, growing tobacco and religion all are them ...more
The Mortifications is a true work of literary fiction. There is incredible depth here, some of which is challenging to grasp initially, some of which might not be possible to grasp without a careful re-read. Readers without a decent understanding of Christianity, and to a lesser degree Catholicism, may struggle to understand the underlying tone and message of the book. This is an unusual book, one I suspect either people will love it or hate it. I found myself needing to keep reading. I had to u ...more
Merry Miller moon
Oct 18, 2016 rated it did not like it
Thank you to Goodreads for the free ARC of this book. Beautiful cover. I could not get into this book. There were days that I just couldn't pick it up. The story revolves around Soledad, her husband Uxbal and their children, twins, Ulises and Isabel. It is the 1980's and Uxbal is a tomato farmer in Cuba. It is becoming dangerous to stay so Soledad decides to take her children on a boat to Connecticut to provide a better life for her children. Isabel develops an infatuation with religion and Ulis ...more
Lisa R.
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Genuine mixed feelings about this one. It was like a Toni Morrison book - I feel as though I should have liked it more than I did. Pros: learning more about Cuba, beautiful writing. Cons: Too many unanswered questions, the only characters I liked were Ulises and Willems, the aspects of the story centered on Catholicism were surreal and hard to follow. I think certain folks will LOVE this one, but I'm not one of them.
Sam Figura
Mar 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Mortifications has characters and emotions that feel so real and powerful, it's absolutely marvellous. I couldn't put this book down! Derek Palacio was my professor last term at the UO. He's a wonderful person and a great writer. I highly recommend this read.
Carmen Petaccio
Apr 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Risks next to nothing, and achieves about as much.
Esther Espeland
Jun 07, 2019 rated it liked it
The prose was lovely and depictions of climate, nature, bodies were very cool and visceral but ultimately I did not connect to any of the characters at all
Sam Sattler
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-novel
Derek Palacio’s debut novel, The Mortifications, tells the story of a Cuban mother who is willing to risk everything in order to give her two children the chance of finding a better life in the United States. So certain that the Soviet Union’s capability of propping up the Cuban economy will end within five years, Soledad Encarnación decides to take advantage of the 1980 Mariel boatlift period (during which Fidel Castro allowed 125,000 Cubans to leave Cuba) by fleeing with her children to Americ ...more
Meg (fairy.bookmother)
The sin is in the knowing. The sin Christ confronts in the desert is the knowledge that his body is useless and, dangerously, how easily he can dismiss it. He will see how tiny a thing he is doing. He will know how small he is as a human being, how little he can change the world as a lump of flesh. The moment he knows, he can and will and should let it all fall away. He will enact the right of a God on Earth; he will make food from stone. He will shake water from the clouds. He will walk into a ...more
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a bit too cerebral and internal for me. I couldn't relate to the religious pulls for most of the characters, but I thought the nostalgia for a life that never truly existed was beautifully described.
Joanne Kelleher
Sep 20, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a Book Club selection.
I slogged through this book, with its unlikable characters and their unusual obsessions, the references to ancient literature, the sacrifices in the name of religion, the symbolism; it was all a bit much.
In the end, though, the themes and symbolism made for a rich book club discussion between myself and the one other member who was able to finish it.
Mar 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
I stopped reading this for a couple months but I don't remember why. I read the first half when Castro was alive and the second half after he passed. Beautiful writing but i feel like the characters didn't grow at all.
I think that this was way too academic for me. Most if it flew right over my head and the lack of quotation marks didn't make it an easy read.
Tonstant Weader
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
The Mortifications asks, answers, and asks again all the important questions about life, love, family, and fate. Why again? Because the answers change which is what you would expect when a story goes from Cuba to Connecticut by way of death threats and hostage-taking in three paragraphs. It begins with the fracturing of the Encarnación family, the father, Uxbal’s political activity inciting Soledad, the mother, to escape in the Maribel boat lift with the twins. There is a frightening scene where ...more
Leaving Cuba and her husband during the 1980 Mariel boat-lift, Soledad settles with her two children in Hartford, Conn. There, they start a new life separated from everything they've known, language, tropical heat and familiar customs. As time goes by, there's plenty of self-blame centering on the man and the island they've left behind. Eventually, one by one, they are drawn back to Cuba where they seek to reconcile their earlier selves to the people they've become.
Although Palacio’s prose conta
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Derek Palacio was born in Evanston, IL, in 1982 but grew up in Greenland, NH. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Ohio State University.

Palacio's work has appeared in Puerto del Sol and The Kenyon Review, and his story “Sugarcane,” was selected for inclusion in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013. He is the co-director, with Claire Vaye Watkins, of the Mojave School, a non-profit creative wr

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20 likes · 15 comments
“They're talking as if nothing's happened, Soledad said to herself, and the jealousy ran from her ears into her heart, where it settled into her aorta and reshaped itself as longing and desire, the kind of want that makes one capable of poor but magnanimous decisions.” 0 likes
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