In 1898, during the Spanish American War, Naval Lieutenant Emile Walker lands with a small party of marines to secure the southeastern coastal town of Ponce in the Caribbean. He does not encounter the anticipated Spanish enemy garrison—since they’ve all deserted to the hills to propagate mixed-blood children of all races and types. Instead he encounters an indolent, lethargic town mired in myths, superstitions and traditions of a by-gone era. The town and its inhabitants had lived secured from the outside world. But now must contend with the coming of the American empire with its ideals of free markets, rugged individualism and ten cent cigars.

In this sleepy town he meets Maria Benítez Izquierdo, and his life is changed forever—and so is that of his forebears to come. The ill-fated romance does not end well, and its tragic impact will foreshadow the destinies of their descendants as they struggle to survive in an era of turmoil, alliances and ruptures, changing social mores and the advent of the American age.

From the mishandled invasion to the modern day, the fates of both the Benítez and the Walkers will be connected. Along the way you’ll meet an unusual cast of characters: Antonio Boglione, the mysterious immigrant from Napoli whose destiny becomes entwined with both families; Doña Saro, whose bootleg home-made rum provides Antonio with his first fortune; Jacobo Levy, the Scholarly Jew, who provides the moral center in a world in free-fall; Leticia Benítez, beautiful and self-centered, whose dalliance with Clayton Walker from the mainland will again revive ancient hatreds; Octavio Mendosa, whose radicalization and hatred of the Yanquis brings untold tragedy to the families and to the town; and the irascible Dixie Walker, a man trying to connect with an era he cannot understand. Through the decades we see the town and the protagonists grow and regress, and change, each controlled by their past and the complexity of time. It is a story imbued with passion, death, and family rivalries. It will all culminate when Maria, the great-granddaughter of both clans, will finally claim both their histories.

The book is a unique family saga rooted in the present, but anchored to the past. Important actions and historical events chronicle the changes of an age: from outhouses to cinemas, from horse carriages to the automobile, from apparitions floating on cobblestone streets to urban new-age housing; and each supplanted in turn by new dreams and illusions.

 

Biography

Oswald Rivera was born in the fabled town of Ponce, Puerto Rico, which he described in this novel. His family moved to New York when he was seven years old. He has penned five books, two on food and cooking, and three novels. He is also a devotee of Kung-Fu Wu-Su, which he has practiced for forty years.

For this novel, Rivera culled back upon family stories and lore of the town of Ponce at the beginning and middle of the 20th century. It set an imprint in his memory, these tales told by parents, grandparents, family and friends, and people, no longer with us, that actually lived the experience portrayed in the novel.