From 19th-century cigar factories to present-day detention centers, from Cuba to Mexico, Gabriela Garcia's novel Of Women and Salt is a kaleidoscopic portrait of betrayals—personal and political, self-inflicted and those done by others—that have shaped the lives of extraordinary women.
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.