Blog, Book Reviews

Book Review: Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera

Release date- May 17, 2022.

Neruda on the Park
by Cleyvis Natera is a multigenerational novel, set in New York, with flashbacks to the Dominican Republic. Set primarily in Nothar Park, a principally Dominican part of New York City, it follows the Guerreros. Vladimir and his wife, Eusebia, and his daughter, Luz have been living in Nothar Park for twenty years. However, the Park is going to be demolished for the construction of luxury condos, as a part of gentrification. Eusebia decides to orchestrate a series of crimes to stop the demolition. On the other hand, Luz, who has been fired form her job as an attorney/ legal associate, has her own issues to deal with, including a romance with the white developer of the luxury condos, and figuring out what she wants to do now.

The novel is not focused on gentrification but more on the desperate methods that Eusebia adopts to hang on to her home. Narrated from the points of view of Eusebia and Luz, there are also three sisters in the neighborhood, nicknamed the Tongues, who function as Greek chorus, commenting on the story. One of the important themes for an immigrant is the idea of home. It can be liberating to call two places as home or it can feel limiting to understand which place is the actual home. Eusebia believes that Nothar Park is her home although Vladimir and Luz think that Eusebia and Vladimir would enjoy retiring to their home in the Dominican Republic. Being an immigrant, I can call India and the US home and the four cities that I have lived in the US are homes to me for different reasons. The idea of home is summed up as, “Home, she told herself, could be a place, a person, a feeling, at times, a profession, the end result of a long pursuit. A fluid thing, for sure, but precious.”

Another theme of the novel was how women can never win. Eusebia’s sister, Cuca, undergoes massive surgery after she found that her husband was unfaithful. When she returns to Nothar Park, Eusebia cannot fathom her sister’s motivation. Luz mentions that women will always be judged and scorned, whether they accept their bodies or decide to do surgery. The friendship between Luz and her neighbor/childhood friend, Angela is portrayed in all its messiness and complications. Both are from the same neighborhood but their lives take different paths because of their families and their choices and opportunities. Eusebia and Luz’s relationship is also chaotic since neither can understand the other’s motivation. Eusebia cannot fathom Luz’s choices to take time to figure out things and her relationship with Hudson. Eusebia’s suspicions are partly justified as Hudson struggles to understand the issues that Luz faces due to her race as well as her dislike of his project to create a futuristic place for people (who are wealthy and privileged) when climate change becomes a threat. Luz cannot understand Eusebia’s attachment to Nothar Park as she and Vladimir always assumed that they both will retire to Dominican Republic.

My only concern with the novel was the character development. I disliked Eusebia and I could not sympathize with her, despite understanding her motivations. At times, Luz’s actions did not make sense. I enjoyed her scenes with Hudson when she calls out his privilege. I also found it strange that Luz was so enamored with Hudson that she completely missed what was going on with her mother. Overall, the novel is a complex and intricate picture about immigrants, home, gentrification, and relationships. Definitely a strong recommendation.

You can find more about Cleyvis Natera on Twitter and Instagram

Rashmila likes to read books by/about women/people of color. She prefers fiction to reality. A dog parent and word ninja, she volunteers for non-profits and is multilingual. Favorite genre- contemporary literary fiction.

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