Released at the end of March 2021, Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia is a truly powerful work of literary fiction and family legacy.
Told in twelve sections, Of Women and Salt reads almost like a connected collection of short stories. Each chapter focuses on a different female character from the two family lines diagrammed in the book’s preface material–either the Cuban descendants of María Isabel or the El Salvadorian mother/daughter present-day pair. Miami, Florida links the two families, as Jeanette and Ana (the youngest of the two lines respectively) cross paths after an ICE raid which claims Ana’s mother. The character, location, and year are denoted at the start of each chapter, which adds a helpful clarity to the section’s contents.
Though the novel opens with a 1-page preface from Jeanette’s mother, Carmen, the first chapter establishes María Isabel, a worker in a Cuban cigar factory during a pivotal political era in 1866. Following this, the narrative stretches forward in time, setting the tone for the time-bouncing yet intentional chronology of the events; the book’s seemingly erratic structure adds a sense of suspense and and foreshadowing to the characters’ fates, prompting the reader to wonder, “What happened, for this character to feel this way?”
Not all of the characters in the Isabel line are devoted their own chapter, though this is balanced by the repetition of certain characters’ tales. For example, we receive several chapters of Jeanette and Ana, who are two of the most compelling characters in this novel–which is not to say that all the characters aren’t intriguing in their own way. I found myself gripped by their circumstances, and enchanted by Garcia’s writing, I was hooked.
While Jeanette struggles with drug addition and substance abuse, other characters face deportation to Mexico, nevermind that they were not even native to Mexico. Others struggle with complicated family relationships and the necessity of survival. Without giving too much away, I will say that this was a very powerful and moving literary work, one which caused my heart to ache with its very human and genuine protagonists.
I also enjoyed, as I mentioned, Garcia’s writing style, which is often a juxtaposition of short, choppy sentences, and longer, lyrical reflections. It added a rhythm to the narration that effectively held my attention, and paired with her detailed yet not dull descriptions, I was quite pleased with my reading experience. Moreover, while certain characters were narrated through a third-person point-of-view, others were told as first-person, and this stylistic choice had a subtle yet nuanced effect on my relationship to the characters, as did it form a more compelling series of chapters.
In such a short novel, Garcia has succeeded at crafting an incredibly impactful web of stories. These women have grit–or salt–to them, and endure as force. It is a story of strength, of breaking, and of women and salt.
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