At once a multigenerational saga about Cuban women learning to survive after losing everything and a brutally honest look at the immigration system in the United States through the eyes of a Salvadoran mother and daughter deported to Mexico after building a life in Miami, this novel captures the beauty of refusing to surrender ... Garcia’s clean, straightforward prose cuts like a scalpel to expose the pain of leaving home and the trauma—both physical and emotional—that shatters the women in her book. This honesty makes Of Women and Salt a hard, uncomfortable read because there are broken ribs, murder, lost teeth, hunger, and abuse here, all presented in real, heartbreaking passages. However, every page is full of writing that illuminates the depth of each character’s suffering in unforgettable ways ... unprocessed trauma rests in the novel’s dark heart like a tumor ... a haunting set of intertwined stories about migration that are meditations on the choices mothers make with their best intentions in mind, and the disastrous effects those choices can have.
In her wrenching debut...Gabriela Garcia meticulously weaves a mesh of parallels between Latinx mothers and daughters ... this is also a true poet’s novel: a painstaking attentiveness to rhythm and metaphor allows Garcia to sketch complicated, thorny parallels between mothers and daughters ... Garcia has made the powerful, and I think correct, decision neither to center nor to humanize any of the violent men in the novel, leaving them one-dimensional, affording them no redemption. This choice, and the decision never to position writing as a form of healing, disrupts comparisons with Isabel Allende’s 1982 novel The House of the Spirits. That said, both are, in their ways, accomplished and brave works that speak out against Latinx intergenerational trauma. The greatest success of this debut novel, for me, is the devastating way Garcia shows that the violent enforcement of gendered (non)belonging takes place simultaneously at the national and personal levels.
... beautifully evocative ... This book is shaped, and given buoyancy, by Garcia’s sharp prose and by Jeanette’s ability to continue believing that the unexpected is possible, even as it repeatedly fails to materialize ... The chapters are sufficiently self-contained that the novel has the rhythm of a linked story collection, a structure that effectively emphasizes the disconnections and breaks that have shaped these characters. The connections that survive do so in compelling ways ... A lesser writer might have used the books’ symbolic weight to try to close some of the historical gaps or heal familial wounds. Instead, Garcia has the wisdom to let the books illuminate what can’t be recovered, no matter what can be inherited ... The depiction of the women in Jeanette and Carmen’s family is confident and layered, capturing their decencies and failings. I found myself wishing for the same depth in the sections about Ana and her mother, Gloria ... Placing characters in an unjust situation is a difficult task for a writer — if Ana and Gloria were anything less than flawless, their portrayal might be read as giving ammunition to people anxious to defend the U.S. immigration system. Still, at times their flawlessness reduces them to their suffering ... Though Garcia thoughtfully engages the ways her white Cuban characters experience racial privilege and a privileged immigration status, the book doesn’t escape echoing this privilege in Ana’s narrative arc, which is never fully situated in the context of her own life ... There is, though, a satisfying grace in Ana’s return. Early in the book, Jeanette thinks of Gloria: 'Even the best mothers in the world can’t always save their daughters.' By its conclusion, Of Women and Salt suggests that though this may be true, it is also true that in the face of tragedy, even the most flawed mothers may be able to help save someone else’s daughter.
... a beautifully written novel that turns like a kaleidoscope in the light, illuminating the blurry delineation of who is an insider and who an outsider. The chapters build upon each other, offering the reader cumulative insight and a sense of dramatic irony. But even while the reader understands much more than any given character ever does, the author also allows precious white space where the reader can come to her own conclusions. This book is an achievement, with short-story-like chapters that nevertheless follow a satisfying arc. Even better, they culminate in a redeeming and emotional ending.
If Garcia takes on more than can fit into 200 pages, the result is an intermittently breathtaking narrative from an author whose voice is already as confident as that of more seasoned writers ... The main theme of these stories is survival ... All of these are stories worth telling, but by putting so many into one slender volume, Garcia renders some of them less powerful than they could have been ... Garcia shows how any event, even something as seemingly insignificant as an old Spanish translation of a Hugo novel, can assume unexpected meaning to one’s descendants.
Reminiscent of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, each character is determined to live free in a society that targets her. Garcia’s debut is slim yet lush, imbued with a harsh beauty that reminds us that the cruelties inflicted upon women—and in this case Latinas, are historical constants ... In Garcia’s deft hands, the devastation of such moments coexists with the beauty of others ... Even with salt in their wounds, the women of Garcia’s soaring first novel survive—despite brutal husbands and boyfriends, war, separation, poverty, violence.
Debut author Gabriela Garcia makes her intentions clear from the first page ... Like the lyric narratives that follow, these family trees feature the first names of women. Abusive men damaged these trees and deadened their branches, but matriarchs are the root of these stories ... In Of Women and Salt, the women do not surrender their hopes, but they also flail against fates they never would have chosen for themselves nor their daughters.
... has the feel of a sweeping family saga that’s hard to reconcile with its slender profile ... While Gloria’s agonizing story of modern immigration has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel of authenticity, the novel is richest when it delves into Jeanette’s family’s past and present in Cuba. Her ancestors’ lives are intimately entwined with the history of Cuba, and the writing in these chapters is lusher, less set on making a point, and more engaged in the particulars of telling a great story ... As the novel moves through time and place, Garcia explores how the political is always personal and how generations of women can pass along both strength and sorrow. At its heart, Of Women and Salt is a sad, deeply American story about the pieces of self people leave behind on their journeys to become 'Americans.'
In Of Women and Salt, the debut novel from Gabriela Garcia, the daughter of immigrants from Cuba and Mexico, any preconceived notions of migrant women are thrown out the window. Garcia shows a flawed cast of characters that spans decades and settings in a world where their lives are rich and complex — and wholly and simply human ... Told in vignettes, the storyline moves around from 19th-century cigar factories in Cuba to present-day Miami and detention centers in Texas ... For a relatively short book — coming in at just a little over 200 pages — Of Women and Salt dives deep into subjects such as immigration, addiction, sexual abuse, death and mother-daughter bonds across two families and generations. These topics are heavy, and should be advised, certainly not for everyone, but when faced with adversity, the women in this novel don’t respond as they would in modern American media ... That’s what makes this novel wonderful. It provides a different view of migrant women — as more than those who only sacrifice their lives for their families ... Garcia shows these women in a wide range of character, conviction and personality, from weak-willed to strong and resilient. Some are emotionally distant. Some make choices without their children’s best interest in mind. They are humans before they are mothers, before they are anything else. They make mistakes and learn from them, and it’s beautiful and realistic ... a captivating and harrowing debut that will undoubtedly put Garcia on the literary map for years to come. It is a prime example of why diverse voices and stories need to be told, to shatter the one-sided narrative typically seen about immigrants, the Latino communities and beyond.
Of Women and Salt spans centuries and oceans and, as Garcia introduces us to the women in this family’s lineage, she suggests there’s always more to unravel. In other words, migrant narratives are more complex and entangled than we’ve allowed ourselves to imagine ... Garcia writes honestly about mother and daughter relationships in migrant families—the words unspoken, the unresolved loss, the trauma women in our families take to their graves ... The protagonists in Of Women and Salt are messy, flawed, selfish at times, and fully human. Garcia teaches us that we do migrant women a disservice when we romanticize their struggles. Her characters warn against idealizing them as role models ... Garcia’s novel deconstructs the narratives we tell ourselves to make migration more bearable. She tells us that none of this is bearable. Of Women and Salt speaks to immigrant experiences in so many different ways. It illustrates Jeanette’s longing to return to Cuba, to search the landscape for some piece of her mother. Garcia focuses on the violence of detention and deportation while also refusing to see migrants as passive victims or heroic figures.
Fans of multigenerational stories, family sagas, and own voices narratives are sure to be excited about Gabriela Garcia’s debut novel. Following a series of mothers and daughters across five generations through Cuba, Mexico, Texas, and Miami, Of Women and Salt depicts the stories, struggles, and strengths of a collection of Latinx women both within and beyond their families ... Deftly sailing from one perspective to another across the years, Garcia uses these women’s voices (as well as a handful of others) to flesh out an enthralling and important story. It is a notable feat for a first-time novelist to broach such an array of significant themes in one work. Central to Garcia’s book is the concept of identity — how we view ourselves internally, as well as how we formulate who we are by learning about those who have come before us, and how identity is ascribed to us by others based on how they see us outwardly. Equally as significant is the focus on family and history ... Although some sections of the narrative feel belaboured (there is too much telling the reader what they should be able to intuit), Of Women and Salt is a book well worth reading, as Garcia shines in her ability to ultimately emphasize the strength, the perseverance, of these Latinx women.
While the stories intersect near the beginning and end of the book, the women’s experiences are as distinct as the cultures from which they come ... While the nonlinear structure of the narrative sometimes makes the story feel disjointed, Garcia has carefully layered the novel so that each chapter delivers revelations about the motivations and psychological burdens of the characters that add to understanding on the part of the reader (though not necessarily the characters, who are not always party to the secrets of their mothers or grandmothers). A relevant and timely work delivered with empathy.
Each chapter could easily function as its own self-contained short story, but together they weave a delicate, unifying thread: to be a woman is to be in a permanent state of exile ... Garcia—herself the daughter of both Mexican and Cuban immigrants, but also a former migrant rights organizer—refuses to give an easy narrative about immigration. Here there are no uplifting stories about the American dream, no model minorities, no monolithic interpretations for a demographic that refuses easy categorizations. More pointedly, there are no mother martyrs, a figure that has been romanticized in debates surrounding immigration. What we get are complicated women who are forced to make complicated decisions, their children sometimes the sacrificial lambs of their own choices ... Garcia takes on big themes, but her approach to each of these timely issues is to aim for intimate moments as a way to illuminate the effect it has on individual lives. A poet by trade, Garcia loves to use an extended metaphor to explore the inner world of her characters, and she does so masterfully ... Garcia has a knack for providing pointed, often searing, sometimes humorous commentary on other hot-button topics like white privilege, the animosity within the Latinx community, and even the tense relationship between the prodigal Cuban Americans returning to the island and the family they left behind ... The power of these vignettes is such that it’s easy to forget all these disparate threads are supposed to amount to a unified whole. It’s perhaps for that reason that the main weakness of the novel is the underlying question of how these two separate families will become inextricably linked. Instead of driving the tension, it proves distracting, and by the time Ana’s and Jeanette’s fates meet again, it feels shoehorned—quite a contrast considering how most of the novel opts for quiet revelations. The ending feels rushed and with little breathing space to explore a resolution that could have been richer ... Also, for a novel that so fiercely traces the legacy that our mothers’ secrets leave behind, we rarely get fully fleshed-out relationships between the mother-daughter pairs that pepper the book ... The book may fall short of its ambitious scope, but what it does achieve, it achieves well. Insightful without being didactic and profound while remaining accessible, it reminds us of the various forces that push immigrant women to seek self-determination.
... beautifully written ... Some novels attempt to tell a sweeping narrative only to get bogged down by a busy plot and too many characters, but despite a large cast from numerous time periods, Of Women and Salt expertly threads each woman’s story to another’s and pulls their stories taut. Disparate hardships propel each of their lives, but they are linked by a shared struggle to carry on in a harsh world, whether each survives her circumstance—or not ... quietly heartbreaking.
Garcia turns her MFA thesis for Purdue University [...] into her widely buzzed first novel. Presented in 12 chapters that read more like interlinked stories, Garcia channels her Miami-based Cuban-Mexican American heritage into five generations of a Cuban American matriarchy ... Garcia’s women populate a sprawling albeit textually spare narrative that demands careful parsing for resonant rewards.
As the book opens, it's 2018, and Carmen is writing in anguish to her daughter, Jeannette, begging her to find the will to live. Then we're immediately swept away to Camagüey, Cuba, in 1866, right before the first Cuban war for independence from Spain, where we meet one of the women's ancestors ... If the novel had continued to offer rich scenes like these, it would have been a success, but from this point on, it feels haphazardly stitched together ... Even with snatches of gorgeously compelling prose, the book can't overcome the lack of relationship development among the women of the family in both Miami and Cuba. A Cuban family grapples with violence and addiction, but their relationships lack depth.
Garcia’s dexterous debut chronicles the travails of a Cuban immigrant family ... Throughout, Garcia illustrates the hard choices mothers make generation after generation to protect their children ... The jumps across time and place can occasionally dampen the various threads’ emotional impact, but by the end they form an impressive, tightly braided whole. This riveting account will please readers of sweeping multigenerational stories.