Paradise, Elena Castedo, Grove Press, 1990, 328 pp
This excellent novel was suggested to one of my reading groups by Mary Helen Ponce, who wrote The Wedding. Elena Castedo was born in Barcelona, raised in Chile and now lives in Massachusetts, when she is not traveling.
Paradise tells the story of a family of refugees from Franco's Spain, now living in a city in South America. We see it all through the eyes of Solita, who is not quite ten years old. Solita worships her Papi but he is rarely home as he roams the town looking for work and getting caught up in labor disputes.
One day Solita's mother tells her they are going to Paradise where everything will be wonderful. Pilar dresses her daughter and four-year-old son in their best clothes and they leave their poverty-stricken pensione life among the refugees to become house guests at El Topaz, the hacienda of a wealthy eccentric.
In this glittery world filled with artists, politicians and "all the best people", Solita is expected to exhibit good manners and be an entertainment for the three daughters who live there. She does provide amusement for these spoiled girls who torment Solita in ways only children can.
As the days go by, Solita tries to navigate this treacherous territory while wondering what her mother is up to and when her Papi will arrive. Castedo has written a fabulous satire of the rich and their crazy customs. Gradually the reader begins to discern Pilar's purpose and strategy by picking up the clues from what Solita observes. As we read, we see what Solita sees and yet we bring our grownup perspective to the story. Brilliant.
In one other writing feat, Elena Castedo develops a certain sympathy for Papi and Pilar as well as for Solita. Each one is strong, brave and persistent; not one of them is completely admirable. They do the best they can to work out a possible life in this new land that has saved them from Franco and the Nazis but has no place for them in its culture.
(Paradise is available in paperback by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)