It is 1959 and Fidel Castro has just taken over the government. Sonya is seventeen and has thrown in her lot with the socialist movement. She believes that the equality and independence that Cuba needed under Batista has finally arrived. But Cuba must still fight off U.S. military, and Castro calls for people to join the army and protect their home.
Sonya's political ideals drive her to put aside her art in order to serve the Cuba's new regime as a surgeon. Castro controls everything, nothing happens without his approval. This must be done in order for Cuba to become a great country. It's 1961 and Sonya volunteers to be a surgeon on the front-lines. She is confronted by the horrors of war, and works heal all regardless of their background. Unfortunately this gets her into trouble when she tries to save a young American, he dies in her arms after giving her his rosary. She is taken by the police, tortured, and questioned for espionage. It is only through bribes and political connections that she is released into her father's care. Sonya's shaken, but her belief in Castro and the revolution remains firm.
Over the next four years, Castro's authority becomes more apparent as Russian Communist are seen more frequently patrolling the streets. At first Sonya's ideals remain intact, she believes that Castro is working to make Cuba a great country, but as her progressive artwork makes her a social target, her fellow Cubans begin to start, and her friends start to disappear, only then does Sonya realize that the ideals she had for Castro and Cuba are not coming to fruition. After being forbidden to exhibit her artwork and feeling that no one will speak the truth about the state of affairs of Cuba does Sonya decide to move to America; leaving behind friends and her husband.
First off the summary I just gave is super watered-down. I realized after writing for about 30 minutes that I was including everything because I feel like it's so necessary to know how gripping this book is. I also realized that if I continued you wouldn't need to read the book. So I did a heavy edit. I was really moved by this book.
Sonya's story, which is based off of Inverna's own memories, is exceptional. From a 21st Century perspective you see the flaws, but you also understand Sonya's need and desire to hold onto the ideals she has. You want her to wake up and yet you want her to remain idealistic at the same time. This emotional conflict resonates throughout the book, and creates a literary layer that you don't see often. It's hard to believe that she is able to go through all of these experiences and still have hope. In some ways the narrative reminds me of Night by Elie Wiesel. The writing was extremely powerful. Which is an overused phrase, but I think appropriate for this work.
It was beautifully done in black and white, the only color being shades red to highlight the emotion of the dialogue and story. Beautiful. But also not for the faint of heart. It is graphic. They do not shy away from images of childbirth, napalm victims, sex, or torture. But it is necessary to really understand the story, to understand the depth of Sonya's commitment to the socialist movement and how disillusioned she must be to eventually leave.
I'm having a hard time coming up with a summarizing sentence/paragraph. This book was moving, stark, and just really well done.