three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
50-Jan-Feb-2011
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A-The Lady Matadors HotelNational Book Award nominee Cristina García is the author of Dreaming in Cuban (1992), The Aguero Sisters (1997), Monkey Hunting (2003), and A Handbook to Luck (2007). Her broad spectrum of work also includes a poetry collection, a children's picture book, and a novel for young adults.

The Story: García sets her fifth adult novel in an unnamed Central American country resembling Guatemala, one rife with civil unrest. But within the luxurious confines of the Miraflor hotel, several guests are absorbed with their own increasingly desperate lives. Among them is a shady and suicidal Korean businessman, a sadistic Latin American army colonel, a Cuban poet, a morally bankrupt adoption attorney, and a vengeful waitress with a score to settle. Suki Palacios, an alluring Japanese-Mexican-American bullfighter, whose flamboyant persona masks a grieving and lonely interior, overshadows them all. "We fear what we love most," she says. "And we especially love what we fear." Over the course of a week, these personalities' stories may converge--or not.
Scribner. 209 pages. $24. ISBN: 9781439181744

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[García] fearlessly explores a desperate country's extremes without descending to sentimentalism and clichés. As an author, Garcia is a skilled matadora." Carolyn Allesio

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Cristina García's beautiful new novel puts economic protesters and heartbroken radicals up against establishment thugs who are looking to die sated and entertained. ... Amid the interlocking vignettes of kitchen help plotting murder and shameless military machos getting shot down in discos, the bashful sins and hushed glories of these characters snake and squirm beneath the weight of Suki's art." Roberto Ontiveros

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"García has created a half-magical world in which blood runs close to the surface and flesh is transitory, opening the door to the big questions of existence: Who am I, and what is my purpose in life? The answers she offers--such as they are--come with a sly wit and strong visual style that explodes with color and life." Amy Driscoll

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"[A] kitchen sink of a novel (as in everything but) whose juggled stories, augmented by the obligatory soupçon of magic realism, take on a quality of festive, freakish excess. ... Not all the stories are equally engaging, and not all the characters rise above the level of types, but the cumulative effect is of an appealing yet barely controlled wildness." John Vernon

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"I hope I'm wrong about this novel, but the allegory seems pretty heavy to me, and the characters stubbornly refuse to come alive. ... [W]hat's the author trying to say?" Carolyn See

Critical Summary

Overall, critics found The Lady Matador's Hotel an appealing novel, describing it as bold, vibrant, and having "the energy of an obsessive tango (New York Times). Like most works featuring multiple narratives, some story lines and characters enticed the critics more than others (the ex-guerilla waitress was a clear favorite, while some reviewers felt the book's villains verged on caricature). The Washington Post critic, who could not understand the novel's message or appeal, stood out as the lone nonbeliever. The Lady Matador's Hotel may not interest readers who prefer their fiction straightforward, but for those who enjoy elements of magical realism and a less structured approach to storytelling, there is much to delight in here.