FICTION

I Was Never the First Lady

HarperVia. Aug. 2021. 272p. ISBN 9780062990747. $26.99. F
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Dismissed by the Cuban government from hosting her controversial radio talk show, Nadia Guerra (who shares the author’s surname) embarks on a quest to find her mother, who abandoned her as a child. Gathering information from her mother’s numerous contacts, Nadia locates her in Russia and later arranges her return to Cuba, where the senile and discouraged woman dies by suicide. After discovering among her mother’s effects a partial draft of a biographical novel about Celia Sánchez (“First Lady”), the famous revolutionary who was Castro’s rumored lover, Nadia is determined to finish the novel as a tribute to both her mother and Celia. To fulfill her goal and add veracity to her mother’s book, Nadia interviews Celia’s sister and Castro’s only daughter. Guerra (Revolution Sunday) develops this meandering storyline unconventionally, with a range of mixed formats like Nadia’s diary, email chains, and transcripts of tape recordings and radio broadcasts.
VERDICT Except for Castro, Sánchez, and Che Guevara, the historical names that populate these pages will probably be unfamiliar to most American readers. Nevertheless, readers will get a peek at everyday life in Cuba after 60 years under Castro, but (like Cubans themselves) can only speculate about the country’s future, as the novel concludes with Castro’s death.
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