A Handbook to Luck
By Cristina Garcia
Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307264367, 272pp.
Publication Date: April 10, 2007
List Price: $24.00*
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From the acclaimed author of Monkey Hunting (“A miracle of poetic compression . . . An epic of anecdotes, a vista of brief and beautiful glimpses” —Los Angeles Times Book Review), a lyrical, haunting, deeply moving new novel.
Late 1960s. We meet three children: Enrique Florit, from Cuba, living in southern California with his flamboyant magician father . . . Marta Claros, getting by in the slums of San Salvador, forced to leave school to help support her family, her beloved older brother having already left home . . . Leila Rezvani, a well-to-do surgeon’s daughter in Tehran, her mother concerned only with appearances, her father an often foolishly vocal opponent of the Shah.
As we follow them across the next twenty years—the narrative moving among their lives—we see Enrique, a math whiz from a young age, sacrificing his dream of attending MIT to filial duty, and the dream of passionate love to the exigencies of reality . . . Marta, fleeing war in El Salvador, making her way illegally into the United States and finding wholly unexpected possibilities . . . Leila, allowing the expectations of her mother to pull her into an arranged marriage and the constricted life of women in postrevolutionary Iran. We see chance draw Leila and Marta into Enrique’s life—Leila and Enrique loving and losing each other, Marta the means to renewed hope for Enrique—and, throughout, “good luck or bad tilting life one way or another” for all of them.
With its cast of vividly drawn characters, its graceful movement through time and the psychological shifts between childhood and adulthood, and its subtle revelation of the essential hopes and doubts of ordinary people whose lives are made extraordinary by circumstance both tragic and joyful, A Handbook to Luck is Cristina García’s most beautiful, elegiac, and deeply emotional novel yet.
Cristina García was born in Havana and grew up in New York City. Her first novel, Dreaming in Cuban, was nominated for a National Book Award and has been widely translated. Ms. García has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, and the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award. She lives in California's Napa Valley with her daughter and husband.
“Using a graceful parallel storytelling technique, García unfolds [her characters’] stories . . . Provocative.”
–Carol Memmott, USA Today
“In this absorbing story, García once again uses her talent for description to conjure the melancholic half-memories of the places and people that immigrants leave behind. And García once again skillfully weaves together the stories of several people whose lives eventually intersect.”
–Robin Updike, Seattle Times
“A Handbook to Luck shines with vulnerable characters, poetic language and poignant epiphanies.”
–Rosie Molinary, Ms.
“[A Handbook to Luck] evokes the poignant inner conflicts and emotional ambiguities of García's first novel, Dreaming in Cuban . . . García deftly pits the forces of magic and reality against each other, testing the boundaries of cynicism and hope in order to attest to the interconnectedness of strangers' lives.”
–Elena Machado Sáez, Florida Sun-Sentinel
“In her first three novels, including her marvelous debut, Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina García amply demonstrated her literary gifts, delineating fine gradations of love and hatred, madness and obsession, while juggling multiple narratives . . . [In A Handbook to Luck], García’s characters are linked most strongly by the sense each has of being ungrounded . . . In [Marta’s] story, and in that of Enrique’s father, García’s writing comes to life, flashing with wit and color.”
–Louisa Thomas, New York Times Book Review
“García expertly braids each of [her characters’] stories together, tenderly tracing the passage of these 1960s children into 1980s adults as they begin to discover the often unavoidable gap ‘between what you planned and what actually happened.’”
–Sue Corbett, People
“The pleasure here is García’s truffle-rich prose and expert handling of time’s passage.”
–Karen Karbo, Entertainment Weekly
“Pitch-perfect . . . García’s novel (and the rich cast of characters that wend their way through it) is driven by a poetic sort of happenstance . . . [The character Leila is] like an Iranian Edna Pontellier, the tragic hero of ‘The Awakening,’ Kate Chopin's classic tale . . . García is still drawn to describe the richness and variety of the immigrant experience. But in A Handbook to Luck she also fixes her attention on the fundamentally human desire to make sense of the world, to impose order on the chaos of nature and to rationalize one's mysterious place within it.”
–Laura Ciolkowski, Chicago Tribune
“García’s characters have a lot to teach us about playing life’s odds, and about resilience . . . With an ear for language and its cadence, García writes with humor, tenderness and an intuitive sense of how ordinary people weather fortune’s turns. If you long for a ‘handbook’ that reveals how ordinary people become extraordinary, you are in luck.”
–Jane H. Furse, New York Daily News
“A magically lyrical meditation on life and human dreams . . . García [is] a poet of imagery and metaphor . . . Richly detailed.”
–Corrie Pikul, Elle
“García’s most transfixing and moving novel to date . . . [Her] vital characters cope with exile, violence, and crushed dreams as they struggle toward love and freedom. As García constructs concentric worlds of conflict and longing, discerns cultural paradoxes and human contrariness, and writes rhapsodically of nature’s beauty, life emerges as a cosmic game of chance under luck’s misrule.”
–Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)
“The fortunes of three vividly characterized protagonists are deftly delineated in [A Handbook to Luck] . . . García braids their stories together skillfully, embedding serious political and familial issues in subtly presented personal relations. The amusing extravagances that crop up never compromise their credible, endearing humanity. Best of all, the permutations of bad and good ‘luck’ that shape their individual and shared lives are quite ingeniously compared and contrasted. Another winner for García.”
–Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“In this compelling, vivid, sophisticated, and highly original love story, three lives intertwine in a tale suffused with magic, sacrifice, passion and an exquisite elegiac music. Cristina Garcia has created a beautiful and stunning book.”
“García lovingly portrays her characters grappling with misfortune and luck in unfamiliar surroundings.”