By: Margarita Barresi
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: October 10, 2023
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: July 31, 2023
Margarita Barresi does a magnificent job of blending history and fiction in her debut novel, A Delicate Marriage.
The story opens with Isabella Soto on stage. She is about to recite Manuel Fernandez Juncos’ poem, ‘La Serenata.’ It is September 1935, and the place is Puerto Rico. The students of the University of Puerto Rico are her audience and they anticipate her reading this acclaimed body of work. As she approaches the microphone, she catches her breath. She is not sure if her eyes are playing tricks on her, but she could swear Gardel, the Argentinian King of Tango was staring back at her from the first row. This isn’t possible, given he perished in an airplane accident the previous June. After collecting her thoughts, she shakes off the impossibility and recites the poem. Enthusiastic applause erupts after her reading and as Isabella walks off stage, she is greeted by Dr. Chardon, the University chancellor. He introduces Isabella to the mysterious and intriguing stranger she had earlier mistaken for Gardel. “…Ah, Senorita Soto, let me introduce you to one of our top students, Marco Rios, the chancellor said, welcoming her admirer with an enthusiastic pat on the back...” (page 10) That chance introduction was the beginning of how Isabella and Marco would forge a future together in time that neither could possibly fathom in that moment.
During the reception post-recital, Isabella and Marco have an opportunity to exchange pleasantries. While details of their respective backgrounds are not discussed, it is clear to Marco that Isabella has lived a life of privilege. Marco’s life and social status was vastly different. He was a jibara (a term used to refer to the poor people of Puerto Rico). He has struggled and worked hard for everything he had attained in his life so far. Isabella’s ‘Papi,’ Don Gabriel, is one of the most affluent figures in Puerto Rico and his plans for his daughter are to have her marry into a situation of equal wealth and stature. Isabella doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Papi’s vision of her future. She wants to be an actress and the only way to achieve this is to convince her Papi to send her to Mexico to study under notable directors like Miguel Contreras Torres and Fernando de Fuentes. The challenge will be to convince her father to agree with her choice. Perhaps meeting Marco was a divine intervention for her plan to become a reality. What Isabella had not planned for was to fall in love with this dark stranger. Maybe she wasn’t destined to become an actress after all.
A Delicate Marriage is Margarita Barresi’s debut novel, and I must give her huge props for writing a well-thought-out storyline that has more than enough meat on its bones. Her attention to the historical details of Puerto Rico’s history in becoming a U.S. Territory is fascinating. The period of time begins with the prologue and the torrent of the San Ciriaco hurricane in 1928 and ends with the epilogue in 2017; describing the aftermath of one of the most devastating hurricanes (Maria) to ravage Puerto Rico in the 21st century. She touches upon class differences between the ‘have’s’ and ‘have-nots,’ comparing privilege to the struggles the native people endure as she highlights the political diversities between those natives who are for U.S. support and those who are not. There is a tangible sense that Ms. Barresi did far more than sprinkle a few historical accounts periodically throughout the read. Rather, she strategically sited specific periods of time and unrest. One account she describes is when the dissent rose beyond a boiling point during the Nationalist party uprising in the 1950s. The unrest began with the "...El Oso Blanco, the massive penitentiary in Rio Piedras, killed two guards and injured another four. More than one hundred convicts were on the loose, spread over the Suan Juan area and beyond, like fleeing vermin, each desperately scurrying to safety..." (page 292). Ms. Barresi tempers the storyline in developing credible characters and situations as she infuses political discourse as the undertone to the storyline. There is a lot to absorb, but Ms. Barresi has written an incredibly engaging tale across the pages. The characters are richly developed, and the dialogue and scenery are captivating. I give this book a big thumbs up!
Quill says: A Delicate Marriage is rife with character and depth and a wonderfully educational look at the history of Puerto Rico.