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.