Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: The House of Impossible Loves

The House of Impossible LovesAuthor: Cristina Lopez Barrio
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

An "exuberant" (El Mundo) debut novel about a family of cursed women in the tradition of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate.   The Laguna women suffer from an odd affliction: each generation is condemned to tragic love affairs and to only give birth to girls who are unable to escape the cruel fate of their mothers. One fateful hunting season in their small Castilian town, a young landowner arrives and begins a passionate affair with Clara Laguna, the latest in the family line, daughter of a one-eyed woman known as "the Laguna witch." He leaves her pregnant with yet another daughter, but the seeds of change are sown. Eventually the long-awaited son—Santiago, the great-great grandson of Clara—is born. A window of hope is opened, but is the curse truly over? Full of memorable, offbeat characters, from a bearded, mute female cook to the local do-gooding priest to the Laguna women themselves, The House of Impossible Loves is a feat of imaginative storytelling that marks the arrival of a talented new novelist.

“They forgot to tell you the real bane of our existence. It’s true we only ever have girls who never marry, and they this a life of disgrace, but we’re doomed to something far worse, my friend: we’re doomed to be unlucky in love. We’re fated to suffer for love, for the one love that steals our soul. It’s why no spell can end our suffering or make us forget. Once the soul is gone, no magic can cure it.”

All whispering in doorways stopped, the old women’s tongues silenced by the snow, the bitter desserts and coffee.

“No, Madre. So I can take my revenge.”

That sea never changed, nor did the sailors, but Manuela grew and changed in the warmth of those stories, her imagination filled with sea foam and waves, seagulls and cliffs that Castilian hills and oak groves could never understand. Her big eyes grew even larger, her black hair curled like seaweed. By the age of fourteen, Manuela could speak Galician, wring a chicken’s neck, pluck and cook it with all Bernarda’s skill. She never suspected that at that age she would learn her mother’s lessons as well.

This is the story of a line of women cursed who can never have true love and who will be forever bound to bear girls. This story follows the lives of many different characters, and is absolutely beautiful in every aspect. The Laguna woman are forever cursed. They will never marry and will only bear little girls, who are also cursed. This particular story starts with Clara Laguna, as she falls madly in love with a hunter from out of town. She knows of the curse, as does he, but she hopes he will be the one to break it. Clara ends up pregnant, with a girl, and her lover ends up leaving her just as the curse predicts. Clara wants only one thing…revenge. Revenge for herself and her daughter, but also revenge for every other Laguna woman that has ever had to bear this awful curse of love.

This story spans six generations of Laguna women. We see life, death, and life made new again. The Laguna women are witches, whores, and cursed forever. Barrio writes an exquisite novel and really captures the angst, anger, and cursed lives of the Laguna women. I have never been so invested in a story in all my life. With each page I was prepared for the best and the worst. The behavior and attitudes of the Laguna women were passionate and full of vigor. These characters were truly what kept me pushing through the book. I was dying to know their stories!

Spanish culture is weaved throughout every page of this novel. It was beautiful and breathtaking and desperately made me want to be there. I love the way that Barrio described tasks as small and daunting as baking. I could picture each scene in my head right down to what the characters looked like and what they were wearing. The detail was vivid and usually realistic. The characters were open and honest and didn’t leave much room for guessing, but I really enjoyed that!

***A copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for my honest review***

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