"The Chin Kiss King"
(Reviewed by Karma Sawka MAR 15, 2002)"The tea was not sweet enough. Cuca added another heaping teaspoon of brown sugar. Soon they would need more from Pancho at the mill. She inhaled the pungent aroma and sipped. Ay, que rico! A great-grandson! How proud her husband would have been. Though he had adored Adela, spoiled her past reason and relatives' complaints, Cuca knew he had secretly longed for a boy, someone to carry on the family name. She had tried. Dios mio, she had tried. She had made love until her insides felt like a scoured pot. She had tried to carry every single one of her pregnancies to full term, not bending too much, not lifting, not looking sideways at people she hated (just in case). And when they had been born, how she had cared for those babies! Her mother-in-law, a wise woman from the mountains who signed her name with an X and counted on her fingers, once observed, "M'ija, you are afflicted with a chronic case of hope." The old woman spoke truth. The world, Cuca thought, was made miserable and ornery by its lack. And in the end, after all, she had been proven right. She was finally able to keep one, one of eight pregnancies. A singular but powerful one, Adela."
At the heart of The Chin Kiss King is the story of three generations of Cuban women in Miami whose family tree is sprouting a new branch. Cuca is the matriarch of the family, an elderly and wise woman who communicates with the spirits of her dead relatives, analyzes her dreams and inventories her natural medicine cupboard kept full of herbs and powders for every imaginable ailment. Adela, Cuca's only surviving child, is full of life, sexual energy and laughter that rings like an orchestra. She plays the lotto with a religious regularity and wears high heels every day of the week. Adela's daughter, Maribel, is an obsessively clean and orderly marketing research assistant who is heavily pregnant with her first child.
Maribel gives birth to her son prematurely and, while Victor Eduardo is born with genetic irregularities and is prone to one illness after another, his fragile life brings the three distinctly different women much closer together. Although I cannot imagine recommending this novel to any of my pregnant girlfriends, it is an endearing story of hope, despair, and the lessons that the three women learn from and with each other. Many of those lessons have to do with the men who have, in one way or another, left them.
"Cuca occasionally lamented the fact that Maribel was alone. She hinted that Maribel's ways, her maniacal sense of order, her oppressive loyalty to routine, had driven Eduardo away. Not so. Slowly Adela was beginning to understand that women were not the ones who drove men away, as if men were oxen to be led by rings in their noses or stallions that startled easily when surprised. No, no, no. Men chose to go away. As she pulled the first of the withered red blooms, it struck her how the three generations of women in her family were variations on a theme: her mother widowed, she divorced, her daughter abandoned. They had not pushed their men away. They had not tossed them out, or ignored them, or turned their backs on them. Yet here they were: alone. Neither by choice nor intent, mind you, but alone all the same."
The story spans the five short months of Victor Eduardo's life with a touch of magical realism and the bittersweetness of images of the past. The Chin Kiss game itself is one of the few tender memories Maribel has of her father; the little girl and her father would systematically "kiss" one another by touching their toes together, their knees, their fingers, their elbows, and so on, ending with a chin kiss. When Victor was born, Maribel began her own son's life with the very same tradition, and it was during this game that the usually inactive baby showed the most response. Readers will guess at Victor's fate, but the sweetness his life brought to his mother and her family is the point of this story.
- Amazon readers rating: from 10 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Chin Kiss King (1997)
- Flight to Freedom (October 2002)
- Miami, the Magic City
- Birthday Parties in Heaven: Thoughts on Love, Life, Grief and Other Matters of the Heart (2000)
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About the Author:
Ana Veciana-Suarez is an award winning syndicated columnist for The Miami Herald. In her columns she explores the human experience, touching on family and personal issues as well as events that are shaping our country. Her Cuban heritage infuses her writing with experience, vibrancy and color. The Chin Kiss King has been translated into Spanish, Dutch, and German, and was nominated for the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She lives in Miami, Florida with husband David Freundlich and her five children.