Palacio unspools his characters’ lives with the type of omniscient authority befitting an epic. He grants us immediate, intimate access to their private selves ... while on the surface this may not sound like the stuff of dramatic tragedy, Palacio ensures that it is. He understands the power of silence, and he breaks his characters’ hearts wide open by leaving them just beyond one another’s reach ... Palacio runs dangerously close to a type of symbolism that simply makes [his characters] extensions of a debate on faith and literature ... it’s in the depiction of that glorious tragedy, and all the love and devotion that come with it, that Palacio’s novel becomes more than just epic. It becomes extraordinary.
It ranges and roams, this book. When it settles onto a moment, it does so with the weight of ten butterflies...all of this is touched on so lightly, Palacio's gaze settling here and there across a span of years and observing the quiet details that make up the roots of life's narrative ... [There] are beautiful observations, too. Sometimes gentle, often gotten at sideways, through the lenses of experiences so native to the characters that not a word rings false.
As a family saga, The Mortifications has more than enough to sustain it. Palacio writes vividly, conjuring smells and tastes of life both in the frozen north and the tropical Caribbean ... A bit too often, however, Palacio veers into a kind of magical realism that seems more interested in ideas than characters, particularly when the family once again lands in Cuba ... Only when Soledad returns to Cuba does the story regain its focus.
What becomes clear early on in the novel is Palacio’s gift for pacing. The prose is patient and robust, without overindulging in longwinded, complicated constructions. The precision pays off, particularly in establishing complex characters that can’t be pigeonholed, despite having archetypical qualities ... The Mortifications is a powerful vehicle for Palacio to examine his family history as a young Cuban-American. The plot considers what it means to be attached and removed from one’s homeland from multiple perspectives ... a truly enjoyable read.
If other contemporary novels of the American immigrant experience have worked to portray the cultural slights and acute misunderstandings that arise from attempting to integrate, Palacio is more interested in the way the psychological resonance of past times and places is amplified by the experience of exile—and in meticulously chronicling the physical, bodily expression of this experience ... Picking up strands of Homeric tragedy as well as Christian mysticism, the novel sometimes groans under the weight of its own conceptual scaffolding ... Part of what The Mortifications does remarkably well is explore the cacophonous coexistence and interaction of different, even contradictory, belief systems.
...a sweeping, lyrical tale of a family's undoing ... His prose contains moments of beauty and magic that are a pleasure to the ear ... But other passages drag a bit. I found myself occasionally wishing the characters would engage in less introspection and that the story would move a bit faster. Still, The Mortifications is a timely book readers will enjoy.
Derek Palacio may well be one of the best narrators to come out of the Americas since Gabriel García Márquez ... Members of Palacio’s Encarnación clan grapple with everyday issues in recognizable ways, yet possess a kind of otherworldliness — an amalgamation of the ordinary and the extraordinary, reminiscent of the best Latin American magical realism ... The breadth of themes and the use of names steeped in symbolism give The Mortifications a mythical aura as well as a sense of universality.