The Austin Chronicle

In Print: Texas Book Festival Authors

Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, September 17, 2010, Books

The Lady Matador's Hotel: A Novel

by Cristina García
Scribner, 224 pp., $24

At the vortex of this beautifully written short novel is the stunning, enigmatic lady matador, Suki Palacios, a Mexican-Japanese-American from Los Angeles. She's staying at the luxurious Hotel Miraflor in the capital of an unnamed Central American country not unlike Guatemala, preparing for the first Battle of the Lady Matadors in the Americas. Also at the hotel is a cast of intriguing characters, all dealing with their own set of personal, interfamilial, and political issues. There's a Korean businessman who is contemplating suicide while his teenage mistress is in the honeymoon suite on the verge of giving birth to their child; an ex-guerrilla who now works in the hotel restaurant and is struggling with her feelings of whether to avenge the death of her brother; a high-powered lawyer of German descent who facilitates legally questionable international adoptions; a colonel, guilty of atrocities during the country's all-too-recent civil war, who is attending a conference of military leaders; and an expatriate Cuban poet and his American wife awaiting their adoption of a local infant. And this all takes place on the eve of national elections in which the former dictator is running as a born-again Christian and anti-government violence is on the upswing. 

With this fifth novel, National Book Award finalist Cristina García deftly coordinates the interaction of the various characters and their psychological plights into an ever-tightening web of suspense while creating unusual and fascinating personal perspectives. For instance, she juxtaposes Aura, the ex-guerrilla whose family was devastated at the hands of a right-wing military dictatorship, with Ricardo, the poet whose family was forced to leave Cuba during its leftist revolution in 1959. As with her other novels, García, who was born in Havana and raised in New York City, revisits the theme of cultural identity that arises from the isolation and dislocation from one's homeland. And when the author, in reference to the impending presidential election, quips that "in tough economic times, xenophobia is the cheapest form of publicity," you realize how firmly she grasps the universality of the politics of fear employed so shamefully against immigrants around the globe.

Tying the disparate parts together is the ubiquitous, iconoclastic Lady Matador. The object of fascination, disdain, admiration, and desire, she bears her own psychological burdens, and like the others, she longs for resolution to life's tribulations.

In addition to her Texas Book Festival appearance, Cristina García reads Sept. 27 at BookPeople and Dec. 2 at the Avaya Auditorium (ACES 2.302) on the UT campus.

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