four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
By: 
Marie Arana
user_rating: 
0

A-CellophaneDon Victor Sobrevilla and his wife, Doña Mariana, venture into the Peruvian rain forest during the Great Depression, searching for a location for a papermaking factory. Obsessed with paper of all kinds, Don Victor accomplishes his greatest feat with the invention of cellophane, "as diaphanous as Fata Morgana’s veil," in 1952. The real story here is the "plague of truth" that descends afterward upon the family’s settlement. As Don Victor and everyone around him begin to confess their deepest secrets, they set off a cascade of strained relationships and further revelations. Arana’s novel delves into the collision of the real and the magical and the age-old conflict between head and heart.
Dial Press. 384 pages. $24. ISBN: 0385336640

Ft. Worth Star Telegram 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Cellophane … is so rich in themes, symbolism, conflict, and character that you can almost hear literature teachers rejoicing in this new work worthy of deconstruction and analysis. It’s also for those who just want a good tale, a brilliant piece of storytelling that combines magical realism in the tradition of writers such as Gabriel García Márquez with comedic looks at human foibles and misunderstandings a la Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream." Catherine Mallette

Baltimore Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"In the world of this novel, misunderstanding and misapprehensions are more likely to ameliorate matters than to muddle them. It’s a strikingly lovely form of grace that imbues Arana’s book and stands, in the end, more memorable even than the fortunate fall of Don Victor and his cellophane dreams." Laura Demanski

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[Arana’s] powerful, compassionate insights into human behavior are what drive the plot, not the arcane secrets of the spirit universe. … Her book is a superb example of the magic that a gifted storyteller can work with ink and paper." Jonathan Kirsch

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Whether she’s in the role of critic, memoirist, or novelist, Arana is a finely tuned writer who knows how to harvest her worlds and bring them to the main stage, an intellectual who delivers insight and story in any genre." Fabiola Santiago

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Revisiting some of the classic Latin American types … Arana steps confidently onto the stage of magic realism, with it surreal politics and its ironic rendering of postcolonial stereotypes. But she is also faithful to the magic-realist manifesto in not admitting a neat discrepancy between metaphor and truth." Chris Moss

San Diego Union-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With her lyrical and shimmering prose, Marie Arana has done something wondrous in her ambitious debut novel: discovered the magic of cellophane. … If only Arana would trust us a bit more, she’d realize that her luminous writing captures the eroticism of total exposure and transparency just fine without so much plastic to bind it all together." Seth Taylor

Critical Summary

Marie Arana, editor of Washington Post Book World and author of the memoir American Chica (2001), a finalist for the National Book Award, skillfully balances humor and passion in her engaging debut novel. Critics applaud all aspects of the novel, from setting to characterization to plot to Arana’s skill with language, her charming sense of playfulness, and her imagination. They also draw the inevitable comparisons to the work of the South American writers Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Isabel Allende, pointing out the difficulty of bringing "the Latin American world, which happens in Spanish, to original English-language literature" (Miami Herald). Strong reviews suggest that readers will impatiently await the author’s next effort, be it fiction or nonfiction.