The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferre


Isabel Monfort, married to Quintin Mendizabal, intended to write the story of the Mendizabals and the Monforts, to account the history behind each generation. But somewhere along the way, it turned into something else, a novel about freedom from the clutching hands of power whether it be political and familial.

In this saga of a wealthy Puerto Rican family, secrets go abound with riches and status. Beginning with Buenaventura Mendizabal’s arrival to the island in the early twentieth century as a descendant of old Spanish Conquistadors, it encompassed several decades up until the mid-nineties.

One day, Quintin discovers the manuscripts and was in complete disagreement with the accuracy of the facts he read, claiming it a tale of fiction bending to the writer’s whims. With each passing chapter however, Isabel’s writing becomes more poignant, displaying the innermost thoughts and desires of each character. As the drama escalates in the story, so does the conflict in the Mendizabal household and the tension within the nation.

The House on the Lagoon works like a series of stories about the prominent men and matriarchs of the Mendizabals and Monforts as well as the few figures of Peru society. Each chapter is quite a stand alone, each one as engaging as the next. Interspersed between them were small narratives of Quintin and Isabel at the time the novel is being written.

The book also gives the readers a bigger picture of the political turmoil and prejudices within the country in the old days and its stumbling effects being a commonwealth colony of United States. Not only the nation but the characters themselves struggle for an identity.

Rosario Ferre, as the voice of Isabel, writes in a nostalgic way, warm and fierce at the same time, matching the heat of the South American island which could be sleepy or unrepentant. Her characters wield powers of their own; the men with their influence and wealth and ancestry blood running through their veins, the women, like Petra and Ermelinda Quinones, with the force of their will and wit.
The little touch of magic only enhanced an exotic flavour to the cultural expressions portrayed in the story. I love its added drama to fate of the Russian ballet teacher Andre and Isabel’s friend when the curtains on the ballet recital went up.

Ferre gives us a story steeped of old colonial aspects; the toast of the town, disparity, political upheavals, and the ultimate freedom from oppression.

Summary

Finalist for the National Book Award: A breathtaking saga from Puerto Rico’s greatest literary voice

This riveting, multigenerational epic tells the story of two families and the history of Puerto Rico through the eyes of Isabel Monfort and her husband, Quintín Mendizabal. Isabel attempts to immortalize their now-united families—and, by extension, their homeland—in a book. The tale that unfolds in her writing has layers upon layers, exploring the nature of love, marriage, family, and Puerto Rico itself.

Weaving the intimate with the expansive on a teeming stage, Ferré crafts a revealing self-portrait of a man and a woman, two fiercely independent people searching for meaning and identity. As Isabel declares: “Nothing is true, nothing is false, everything is the color of the glass you’re looking through.”

A book about freeing oneself from societal and cultural constraints, The House on the Lagoon also grapples with bigger issues of life, death, poverty, and racism. Mythological in its breadth and scope, this is a masterwork from an extraordinary storyteller.

Title: The House on the Lagoon
Author: Rosario Ferre
Genre: Historical, Cultural, Latin American Literature
Published: April 2014
Publisher: Open Road Media
Rating: ♨♨♨ (3 cups - An epic family saga rich with Latin American flavor.)

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