Of Women and Salt: Book summary and reviews of Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

Of Women and Salt

by Gabriela Garcia

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia X
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
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Book Summary

A sweeping, masterful debut about a daughter's fateful choice, a mother motivated by her own past, and a family legacy that begins in Cuba before either of them were born.

In present-day Miami, Jeanette is battling addiction. Daughter of Carmen, a Cuban immigrant, she is determined to learn more about her family history from her reticent mother and makes the snap decision to take in the daughter of a neighbor detained by ICE. Carmen, still wrestling with the trauma of displacement, must process her difficult relationship with her own mother while trying to raise a wayward Jeanette. Steadfast in her quest for understanding, Jeanette travels to Cuba to see her grandmother and reckon with secrets from the past destined to erupt.

From 19th-century cigar factories to present-day detention centers, from Cuba to Mexico, Gabriela Garcia's Of Women and Salt is a kaleidoscopic portrait of betrayals―personal and political, self-inflicted and those done by others―that have shaped the lives of these extraordinary women. A haunting meditation on the choices of mothers, the legacy of the memories they carry, and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their stories despite those who wish to silence them, this is more than a diaspora story; it is a story of America's most tangled, honest, human roots.

First published in hardcover: March 2021. Paperback reprint: January 2022.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel begins with this sentence: "Jeanette, tell me that you want to live." How does this intimate direct address from mother to daughter set the tone for some of the themes that we encounter in the following pages? Do you think it connects to concepts of endurance or survival in the other women's stories?
  2. Maria Isabel loses two of the most important people in her life and gives birth to her daughter, Cecilia. How do you think loss impacts and informs the decisions that women make throughout the book?
  3. The book exposes the flaws and inequities in the immigration system. How does Gloria's deportation act as a catalyst for Garcia's story? What effect does her deportation seem to have on the other characters?
  4. Compare and...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Of Women and Salt:

Compare and contrast the mother-daughter relationships in this novel. Which relationship did you connect with the most?
I am not sure that I connected to this relationship most - but I understood the relationship between Carmen and Jeanette. I understood why Carmen would empty her hands of Jeanette and put her out of her life. Alcoholism effects everyone connected to ... - taking.mytime

Did the book add any new perspectives to your understanding of the U.S. immigration system? If you have read other fiction that focuses on immigration, how does Of Women and Salt compare?
I much prefer nonfiction when it comes to immigration. I have read a number of nonfiction books that dealt with border crossing and ICE. I feel that in a nonfiction book you can learn about immigration - as each persons story seems to be a bit ... - taking.mytime

Garcia shows how the decisions women make on their own can have powerful effects on family members and even impact future generations. What do you think this perspective adds to popular notions of history, politics and immigration?
Women are strong. They can effect change in many ways that men cannot - often doing it either unseen, unspoken or unnoticed. All in all it is probably the decisions that women make that guide and lead our youth - their children - most often. We are ... - taking.mytime

How did you feel about jumping through time and place in this novel? What value can narratives that defy chronological or sequential order have in telling a story?
I felt that this particular book really jumped around in time and place. I am not sure this book would have worked any better using a chronological time line. There were times that I felt lost - not knowing if Jeanette was 18 or 38. - taking.mytime

How do you feel men are portrayed in the story in general? What effects do they seem to have on women's lives?
This book seemed to pick up the worst in men. None of them were kind considerate or felt women were anything but a possession. They all seemed crude and overbearing. - taking.mytime

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A] dexterous debut...The jumps across time and place can occasionally dampen the various threads' emotional impact, but by the end they form an impressive, tightly braided whole. This riveting account will please readers of sweeping multigenerational stories." - Publishers Weekly

"While the nonlinear structure of the narrative sometimes makes the story feel disjointed, Garcia has carefully layered the novel so that each chapter delivers revelations about the motivations and psychological burdens of the characters...A relevant and timely work delivered with empathy." - Library Journal

"This gripping, accomplished debut follows generations of Cuban women, from María Isabel, rolling cigars as she listens to the words of Victor Hugo and men die around her, to Jeanette, struggling with addiction in Miami, and trying to find a place in the world that feels real. An interlocking portrait of women striving, loving, losing, getting lost and getting found." - Lit Hub

"Garcia's debut novel is a...stunningly accomplished first novel...both epic and intimate." - O Magazine

"From the perspectives of several generations of Cuban women, this remarkable debut shines a brilliant light on the broken immigration system and legacy of trauma for the people who endure it." - Ms. Magazine

"Gabriela Garcia captures the lives of Cuban women in a world to which they refuse to surrender and she does so with precision and generosity and beauty." - Roxane Gay, bestselling author of Hunger and Bad Feminist

"Of Women of Salt is a fierce and powerful debut. Garcia wields narrative power, cultivating true and profound work on migration, legacy, and survival." - Terese Marie Mailhot, bestselling author of Heart Berries

This information about Of Women and Salt was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Mary O. (Siasconset, MA)

Excellent debut novel
A fascinating story of mother/daughter relationships amidst the backdrop of Cuba and Florida. So engrossing and hard to put down!

Mary L. (Greeley, CO)

Women--Cuba, Generations, Immigration
If you want to enter the hearts of several generations of women, starting in Cuba an moving to Miami you will want to read this book. While not long in length, the story that unfolds through the voices of these women is unforgettable and one that leave you haunted. "We are force" indeed.

Karna B. (Long Beach, CA)

Of Women and Salt
This debut novel is a must read! From the cigar factories in Cuba to the streets of Miami, Garcia's writing compels the reader to encounter the lived experiences of each of the female protagonists. Immigration and detention, poverty, isolation, drug and/or marital abuse, and mother/daughter relationships are predominant themes. While at times difficult to savor due to the traumas experienced by each of the females portrayed, this timely book should be on everyone's reading list.

Ann W. (New York, NY)

First person: Plural
Well crafted stories, cinematic framework. Collective voices, with misdirection. Cuban female perspectives begin in slavery in colonial Cuban and continue to present.

Margot P. (Mandeville, LA)

We Are Force
These words, written in the margin of a page in a Spanish first edition of Les Miserables, define the nine characters of this short, rich novel. Each chapter is more like a self contained short story with just enough links to add power and meaning to the next. So much is covered in 200 pages: civil wars in Cuba, Salvadoran emigration, addiction, molestation, and very complex mother daughter relationships. Yet, the novel never feels crowded or overwhelming. It's sad, violent, but dotted with glimmers of hope. I actually liked Of Women and Salt better than American Dirt which was one of my favorites of the year.

Susan

General
I waited to post my review until my book group had met. The book caused a lively discussion. Many were enlightened by aspects and being Floridians very interested. It brought up many reflections on the members' relationships with their own mothers. There is much depth in this book, and I recommend it for your own reading groups.

...32 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Gabriela Garcia Author Biography

Gabriela Garcia is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award and a Steinbeck Fellowship from San Jose State University. Her fiction and poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Tin House, Zyzzyva, Iowa Review, and elsewhere. She is the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Cuba and grew up in Miami. Of Women and Salt is her first novel.

Link to Gabriela Garcia's Website

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