General observations and questions
This novel first published in 1971 is a sprawling family chronicle and a distinctive immigrant narrative. It compasses the
lives and stories of four generations of
a Cuban-American family told from the perspective of second generation immigrant son. The action moves
between Matanzas, Havana, Key West, Tampa and New York City. Would you
call this an American novel? A Florida novel?
As in his essay, Yglesias is keenly aware of class differences in the novel. The "them" of the novel
is the colonial Spanish families of Cuba; what is
the truth the novel tells about them? How might this relate to Yglesias' claim in his
essay that "we Latins are not necessarily of a piece"?
The Truth About Them offers a rich example of a literary text that provides enormous amounts of information about place,
written as it is by a
talented writer, keen observer and a person who is both inside and outside the community.
Let's analyze the novel on a variety of levels related to place.
Returning to Cresswell, what information does the novel provide on a descriptive level? What do you learn about Ybor (or other "real"
you might not know today?
What information does the novel provide about the social construction of place? In this particular place (Ybor from 1880s to 1950s),
what attributes of place
does the book highlight that inform the social, political, racial, gendered, sexual, and economic structures?
It is for this question, I believe, that the book
provides most information.
How does the narrative suggest a phenomenology of place? Each chapter highlights the experience of one member of his family, though
it is told from the perspective of Pini. How do characters experience places differently?
The book is not told in chronological sequence. Why might that be? What
is the relation between linear time and immigrant experience? Does place have anything to do with this?
This chapter focuses on the experience Pini's Grandmother, and it tells her story based on what Pini has learned. Why does he begin
with his grandmother? In what sense might her experience be foundational?
How does Pini's grandmother feel about Key West when she arrives? Why? How does this differ from Pini's grandfather and why?
"In our family we all suffer happily from an intense nostalgia" (5). What does Pini mean by this? What clues does this provide about the relationship
between his extended family and their place?
What does Pini learn about his Grandmother's people and how does he respond?
"I have dwelt so long on this little incident that happened a century ago in a town very few people have heard about because the
dehiscence of a young girl, as of every bloom, is a singular event. One must have all the facts and yet they are not
entirely assuring; a mystery remains" (15). Why is this event so important?
What is the significance of Pini's reading his Great-grandfather's journal while aboard ship in the U.S. Navy?
Comment: "To this day I speak more softly and sit more carefully in the homes of the well-to-do" (20).
How is the revolution in Cuba a factor in the family story of Pini's grandmother? (Perhaps do a quick review of Cuban history.)
"They put on manliness the day they walked into the cigar factories as apprentices. Not, as with my generation, when they lost their virginity" (30).
How do these threshold moments differ and what does that say about "manhood"?
What role does Jose Marti play in grandfather's story?
Why does the family go to New York? How is grandfather different in different places (Key West, Tampa, New York)?
Evaluate the importance of Grandfather's advice to Pini: "Do not put your trust in anything but the work of your hands" (53).
At the end of the chapter, Grandfather reacts poorly to the "progress" made in New York and his son-in-law's participation in it. What
are the implications of such changes to place and specifically how does it affect the Latin family?
Remember to identify place names for your mapping project. For this novel, select a way to organize the places mentioned in the novel and
represent that through your mapping strategy. For example, you could map the travels of individual characters in the novel and assign each
of the characters you choose a color. Add a quotation from the novel for the places marked.