Book Review: I GAVE YOU ALL I HAD, by Zoe Valdes

Wow. I'm not sure I have it in me to describe this book, but I'll try: a love story and a revolution. Cuca Martinez, on her first night out in steamy Havana, meets/dances with/kisses and falls forever in love with Juan Perez (aka "the Uan"). When Juan disappears, Cuca waits, convinced that he will reappear to claim her--meanwhile the Cuban revolution is underway, and as Cuca waits (and waits and waits), her country falls into poverty and corruption, and Juan still does not come back.

But this is not a tragedy--anything but. Valdes gets out the fat brushes and the bright colors and paints Havana in bold strokes, bringing in characters vivid and wild--a cockroach and a rat who fall in love and are married, two fat and feisty aunties, an enchanted hurricane, the Mafia, Edith Piaf, and Cuca's eccentric neighbors, who have names like Fax, and Xerox Machine. It is something of a fairy tale.

From chapter to chapter, I GAVE YOU changes from romance, to drama, to political history, to comedy, and at first these changes feel abrupt, but as Valdes weaves on, the threads begin to merge and form one complete, brilliant picture. I will not tell you of what.


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