March 23, 1998 12:00 PM

by Rosario Ferré

In this incandescent novel, Rosario Ferré, the acclaimed Puerto Rican writer (and daughter of former governor general Luis A. Ferré), dramatizes the truth that the stories we tell about ourselves are always rooted in our larger family histories.

Ferré’s simple yet magical prose locates her story of the fictional Vernet and Rivas de Santillana families in the larger context of Puerto Rico’s political, social and economic development over the past century. Their evolution, from small sugar growers to large cement manufacturers, mirrors the transformation of the island itself. Through her narrator, Elvira, Ferré evokes what she calls “the voices of those I could no longer see, and whose stories I could not have dreamed”—of parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins—whose experiences of passion, greed, ambition and sacrifice help Elvira understand who she is.

At the end of the novel, by establishing her own career as a professor, Elvira breaks free from the patriarchal constraints that shackled her mother and aunts. Celebrating Elvira’s hard-won independence, the novel also celebrates her birth as an emerging artist. Ferré’s attention to her ancestral voices results in putting her powerfully in touch with her own. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24)

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