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The Second Death of Unica Aveyano

Review

The Second Death of Unica Aveyano



This reviewer's first taste of the works of Ernesto Mestre-Reed,
the surrealistic novel THE SECOND DEATH OF UNICA AVEYANO, was a
welcome entry to a list of well-known and highly acclaimed writers
of Latin descent. Compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel
Allende, Mestre-Reed takes the reader on a journey that is part
mystical and part real-life, as we are introduced to the world of
Unica Aveyano, a Cuban immigrant who is dying of cancer while her
life flashes before her.

The story opens with Unica and her thoughts. Her mind is filled
with various places that she has been throughout her life: Cuba,
New York and Miami. It is as if she is dreaming, and in her dreams
she is filled with memories of her past lives as they become one.
The book itself is told in this dreamlike state, where one part of
her life melds with another. At first, it is almost as if there is
no time differentiation between her years in Cuba and the time she
spent in Miami and New York. For her, it seems that time has
stopped and everything blends into one.

The news story of Elian Gonzalez has just made the headlines, and
his story is woven into Unica's. The Elian story is the grounding
force that brings the reader back to the present. As Unica and the
rest of the Cuban American population seek out the young Cuban boy
who was lost at sea and has now found a new home in America,
Unica's story begins to unfold. It is often cryptic, always
dreamlike with patches of lucidity, and told with smatterings of
Spanish, as Unica has become fluent in English but sometimes her
thoughts flow out in her native tongue.

Early in the book, Unica has an adventure as she finds her way to
the Atlantic Ocean located not too far from her current home in
Miami. She runs naked through the streets followed by a pack of
young men who are also wearing as little clothes as is permissible,
stopping street traffic all around them. This scene helps lend to
the tone of the book, which is rather strange at times, somewhat
whimsical, but always coming back to the real world and the
present, where Unica is fighting cancer and reminiscing about her
past.

The reader learns of the people who had been most important to her
in her life. The story of her son Candido is told in flashbacks
throughout the book. His life seems as mystical as Unica's trip to
the beach. As a young adolescent in Cuba, he spent hours in his
little home built around a small hole in the ground outside his
parents' house, instructing adults in sex and relationship
management. Unica tells tales of sex between these strangers and
her son that she herself witnessed covertly, conveying a very
disturbing yet erotic feel to Candido's story and giving him the
image not of a young boy but that of a grown man in a boy's body.
The mystique and legend surrounding her son runs through the length
of the novel, as it is slowly revealed what fate befalls him.

It is through these sexual encounters that Candido meets his future
wife, Miriam. Unica and Miriam do not get along, yet back in Cuba a
different Miriam existed, and it is that Miriam who lives in
Unica's dreams of Candido. Also through Unica's flashbacks, the
story of Modesto is told, as well as the story of Unica's
conception and near "first death." Unica's love of her stepfather
Dr. Esmeralda Gloria, who becomes the father she never had, is
another big influence in her life. Stories of his courtship with
her mother Marcia are told in a funny and fanciful way. And last
but not least, the reader meets Patricio, her mysterious grandson
and the son of the infamous Candido and Miriam. His story brings
the reader back to the present and to Unica's desire to be free of
her cancer forever.

At only 259 pages, the author is able to pack in a lifetime of
memories and adventures told through random flashbacks that cover
several generations living in Cuba and in America. By the end of
the novel, the reader will have an understanding of Unica's life
and the people and events that helped shape her destiny. This
reviewer found THE SECOND DEATH OF UNICA AVEYANO to be a five-star
book, a celebration of life on an epic scale, told in a lyrical
fashion that only a few authors have been able to do
successfully.

Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton (Ratmammy@lofton.org) on January 23, 2011

The Second Death of Unica Aveyano
by Ernesto Mestre-Reed

  • Publication Date: March 9, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 1400033160
  • ISBN-13: 9781400033164