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Divine Husband (Goldman) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
As in Francisco Goldman's previous two novels—especially his more recent, the intermittently stunning Ordinary Seaman—the characters in The Divine Husband are driven by various kinds of illusions, and like Quixote, they recognize them as illusions, yet persist in rebuilding them when they break apart. Far from being crazy, their idealism is tarnished by their sanity.
Lee Siegel - The New York Times


That Goldman's book largely succeeds in spite of this familiar material remains a testament to its author's deep imagination, stylistic verve and psychological acuity.
Michael Dirda - The Washington Post


From shards of literary and historical evidence, Goldman’s novel re-creates an interlude in the life of José Martí, the great Cuban patriot and poet. In 1877, the young Martí, exiled from Cuba for anti-Spanish activities, grew curious about the recent liberal revolution in Guatemala and took a job teaching at a women’s college there. In many ways, the novel is built around Martí’s 1891 collection “Versos Sencillos,” one poem of which has led scholars to speculate that Martí fathered an illegitimate child in Guatemala. Goldman’s Martí is indeed wildly popular with his female students, one of whom, a former novice in a convent abolished by the liberals, is able, through prayer and intense meditation, to transport herself from one place to another—an ability that provides an apt metaphor for Goldman’s sense of both a country at a cultural crossroads and an exotic lost world.
The New Yorker


There exists a level of writing, very rare, that takes your breath away.... Love is the touchstone of Goldman's hefty, sagacious third novel, one that took him seven years to write-love religious and secular, of poetry, of nation. The Divine Husband is an alchemist's brew of history, fiction and legend.... The soul of the sweeping plot, however, is José Martí, the driven, charismatic poet and revolutionary who is the fire behind Cuba's insurgence against Spanish rule.... Vagaries of desire propel the book forward, with its dangerous journeys dedicated to the beloved, its doomed passions and tender reconciliations.... While reading this latest work, I wondered about the identity of the narrator who guides us through complex political situations...as well as through beautifully rendered personal moments. Ultimately, it is Goldman's ability to create a multifaceted world, part indefatigable research and part invention, that infuses the persona of the storyteller. His title is a poem, a query, in itself. Who or what constitutes a divine husband? Within these pages, some find the answer in faith, others in a poet-hero, still others in home and country, or in the embrace of long-sought kinship. Their journeys make for a uniquely ambitious and enlightening read.
Houston Chronicle - Lisa Jennifer Selzman


The Guatemalan-American Goldman has used the often violent modern history of Central America as the backdrop of his two previous novels. His latest plunges back to the 19th century, telling the story of a woman who might have borne an illegitimate child of the great Cuban poet, Jose Marti. First a nun, then a translator for the British ambassador, Maria de las Nieves Moran is involved with four men, one of whom is Jose Marti. Unfortunately, Marti never transcends his wooden theatricality as "the poet" in Goldman's narrative. Much more interesting are Maria's three other suitors, especially Maria's true love, a mysterious boy whom the ambassador has plucked out of obscurity and wants to make the king of the Mosquitoes, an Indian tribe on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. Certain sequences (a journey to the interior of the republic, the romance between Maria and the "king" of the Mosquitos, etc.) are beautifully written. The narrative, however, loses his sense of what is central and what is peripheral. The novel suffers from too much clutter and the obsession with Marti, a bothersome McGuffin in an otherwise independently interesting story. Though a respectable entry in the author's growing oeuvre, this doesn't pack the narrative punch of Goldman's first two novels.
Publishers Weekly


Cuban poet and revolutionary Jose Marti (1853-95) spent a little over a year in Guatemala; from that biographical nugget, Goldman fabricates a complex tale set in late 19th-century Central America (the exact country is never specified). Maria de las Nieves and Paquita Aparisio grow up together as novitiates in a convent; they later pollute their upbringing, Paquita by marrying the country's ruthless dictator and Maria by having two children out of wedlock. One of the characters with whom Maria comes into close contact is Marti himself, the suspected father of Mathilde, her firstborn. The avowed purpose of this novel is, in fact, to determine who Mathilde's father is, though this is not divulged until page 400. Though the historical framework is basically sound, Goldman missed a golden opportunity to play up the Marti "man of action" connection, since the legendary Cuban hero appears far too seldom to satisfy the reader's curiosity. Even that probably wouldn't have been enough, however, to save the stilted prose; the narration reads like a stodgy treatise or a digressive journal. Not recommended. —Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH.
Library Journal


Goldman returns to 19th-century Central America to trace the life and loves of a half-Indian, half-Irish near-nun who falls for Jose Marti. Sexier-than-pretty Mar'a de las Nieves Moran entered one of the many convents in her nameless little Central American homeland not for love of God but for love of her bosom friend Paquita. It's a long story (densely written, it's muy long), but nubile, adolescent, and beautiful Paquita had become the romantic object of the much older El Anticristo, anticlerical leader of the current Liberal rebel forces. Paquita had promised not to lose her virginity until Mar'a de las Nieves had lost hers, so the latter's vows should have put Paquita out of circulation forever. Not so. When El Anticristo, without too much trouble or bloodshed, seizes the country's helm, Paquita becomes the first lady and Mar'a de las Nieves, whose misunderstood sacrifice has netted little save a severe allergy for wool, is out of a job. El Anticristo and his Liberal government have disbanded the monasteries and convents, driving the career nuns into hiding and the novices back into the world. Multilingual Mar'a de las Nieves cashes in her small inheritance to buy a little house and become a functionary in the English embassy, where she becomes the object of numerous crushes. She, however, has eyes only for Cuban revolutionary poet Jose Marti, who has eyes for just about anything in a skirt in general and the beautiful daughter of the deposed president in particular, his Mexican fiancee notwithstanding. Too bad she can't see her way to loving ambitious autodidact and fellow Indio Marco Aurelio ("Mack") Chinchilla until they've both gone through more perils and upheavals than Candide and Cunegonde. Everybody winds up in New York. Informative, chatty, wry, often amusing, but not enough so that readers won't be checking their watches. Or calendars.
Kirkus Reviews




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