Maria Elena Alonso-Sierra’s short stories collection “The Fish Tank: And Other Short Stories” is a jewel.
Of the four sections, “For the Fun of Writing (Just Because), Soul Songs (Stories from the Cuban Diaspora), Prologues (prequel stories from upcoming novels), and The End, “Soul Songs” impressed me the most. Having lived in the Florida Keys, home to many Cuban refugees, Alonso-Sierra’s stories reminded me of similar stories I have heard.Alonso-Sierra’s gift for writing allows the readers to “see” her characters’ thinking, struggle with conflict, and the will to overcome whatever the obstacle.
Her book features a lot of strong women and I liked that.
In “Jerry’s Gift” it’s Maureen who got out of a non working marriage. Though shesupported her ex, Jerry, while he studied corporate law, he did not value her as a partner and his family did not treasure her. But Jerry isn’t as perfect as he thinks. Busy with philandering and trying to manipulate things so Maureen’d get as little money as possible, Jerry forgot that had hid her jewelry together with his late
grandmother’s. And, since Jerry, not Maureen, took the jewelry out of the safety
box nobody would ever be able to track it back to her.
But, having taken “the gift” Maureen doesn’t sit idle, she builds a new life for
herself. And, she enjoys it. “… Every afternoon, after she stopped the refurbishing,
she made a pitcher of lemonade and sat facing the eighty-year-old maple trees
at the edge of the property. Her ritual. Her space. Her world…”
In “Rites of Passage” it’s Kate who overcomes her disliking of roller coasters to
support her son Bryan. Finally tall enough, Bryan wants to ride the highest, scariest
roller coaster but his father won’t let him go alone or ride with him. Supporting
Bryan is so empowering that Kate overcomes her own emotional restraints.
“… With a heartfelt sigh, I stand in line again.”
In “Bubbles Don’t Bring Smiles” it’s Abue Cachita (Abue, shortened from
abuela, spanish for grandmother) who keeps her cool as Castro’s soldiers
are approaching, searching for American goods while the “… glorious
Comandante (Castro) is at the front lines. He will not cower to the
enemy that threatens to destroy our glorious revolution.”…”
Alonso-Sierra features not only clever women stores, there is also a detective
Nick Larson Story, with a Alonso-Sierra’s third novel about his detective work
Maybe not surprising the story that moved me the most is The Fish Tank*
(*2015 Finalist at Carried in Waves Contest from the University of Cork, Ireland),
also depicted on the cover.
The opening of this story holds the clue
“… (Matilda’s) back created a perfect parallel to the chair’s backrest barely two
inches behind her, and the organza skirt she wore, a faded green, frothed around
her legs, its color a pitiful contrast against the vivid white petticoat underneath.
She tried not to move, unlike the other adults inside the room who shifted nervously
in kaleidoscope patterns…”
Matilda is about to leave Cuba with her mother. They are going to join her Papi
who escaped after the Playa Girón invasion. Matilda brings only one toy, “… a beautiful
Snow White doll, crafted in Switzerland, with a smooth porcelain face, round innocent
eyes, rosy cheeks, and a pout for a smile. A family heirloom, handed down from mother
to daughter for four generations…”
As she waits with her mother in “the fish tank,” a holding room, suspense rises
by the minute. People are still getting removed, they won’t make it to freedom.
When Matilda and her mother are finally about to leave, one of the guards notices
the doll… (no spoilers from this reviewer)
Remember, the clue was in the opening of the story! Things are never obvious.
It’s another “strong woman”-story, only this time is a girl.
LOVED this book. A must-read for Floridians, Cubans, women, history buffs, and lovers of good books.
Gisela Hausmann, author & blogger