A thrilling novel intertwining one Cuban-American Jewish family’s personal tragedy with the contemporary struggle in Cuba.
by Himilce Novas
Published: September 30, 2004
Bind: Trade Paperback
Roberto Lobo receives anonymous calls in the night. Voices whisper threats in his ear. His fear drives him to seek the help of Ideliza Mercado, Princess Papaya and Priestess of the Barrio. Roberto hopes Princess Papaya’s powerful knowledge of santería will end his torment. Hiding in the shadows is Ideliza and Roberto’s deaf-mute son, Bembé. Across the city, Victoria Lobo, a Jewish, Cuban-American poet, mourns the death of her husband, Francisco, until a chance meeting with Bembé brings her closer to her brother and the disappearance that has plagued her family for twenty years.
From this web of characters spins an intense story of desire and intrigue, forging the lives of Roberto and his sister, Victoria; Ideliza Mercado and her son, Bembé; and Cooper, a mysterious stranger who is more involved in their stories than they may guess. A corral of unique characters populate this rhapsodic, magically real tour de force: a hydrocephalic child with uncanny spiritual powers, a doctor whose greed precipitates a descent into his worst nightmares, a grieving poet struggling to regain her muse, and a man who fights to survive torture and the neglect of his family.
Taking us from the 9-11 tragedy in New York City to the political dungeons in Cuba to the vineyards of Santa Barbara, Novas weaves together santería, gender identity, sexuality politics and the resistance movement in contemporary Cuba.
“I love Himilce’s characters and her understanding of the Latino soul in all its guises, traditions, and classes. Her writing is universal and timeless. Princess Papaya is beautifully rendered, chilling, touching, and haunting.”
“A disarming blend of magical realism and pungent social satire, this extraordinary novel is an incandescent tale…”
—Publishers Weekly on Mangos, Bananas, and Coconuts: A Cuban Loves Story
Born into a family of prominent intellectuals with a journalistic tradition, HIMILCE NOVAS showed early signs of a promising writing career when, still in her early teens, several of her poems were published in a literary journal by Nobel Prize winner Camilo José Cela.
Fleeing Castro’s Cuba with her parents in 1960, Himilce Novas grew up in New York City. Over the years, she honed her craft into a successful journalistic career as a newspaper and magazine editor for such publications as The New York Times, Connoisseur, and The Christian Science Monitor. As she rose through the ranks of the publishing industry, she continued her creative writing pursuits, turning her pen to writing plays. Her play, Free This Day: A Trial in Seven Exhibits, was published by Joseph Papp in Scripts.
Novas is the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction. Her thrilling novel intertwining one Cuban-American Jewish family’s personal tragedy with the contemporary struggle in Cuba, Princess Papaya (Arte Público Press, 2004), has already received critical acclaim. Isabel Allende said: “I love Himilce’s characters and her understanding of the Latino soul in all its guises, traditions, and classes. Her writing is universal and timeless. Princess Papaya is beautifully rendered, chilling, touching, and haunting.”
Her fiction works include Mangos, Bananas and Coconuts: A Cuban Love Story (Arte Público Press, 1996; Putnam/Riverhead paperback 1996). Among her works of nonfiction: Latino Art and Culture in the United States (The National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1996), Everything You Need to Know about Latino History (Plume/Penguin, 1994; 1998; 2003), Everything You Need to Know about Asian American History (Plume/Penguin, 1996; 2004) – both of which met with extraordinary critical acclaim. The Hispanic 100: A Ranking of the Latino Men and Women Who Have Most Influenced American Thought and Culture (Citadel Press, 1995), Remembering Selena: A Tribute in Pictures and Words / Recordando a Selena: Un tributo en palabras y fotos (St. Martin’s Press, 1995), Latin American Cooking Across the USA and the Spanish language edition, La Buena Mesa (Knopf, 1996), selected among the eight best cookery books of the year by various prestigious publications and featured in Food & Wine’s “The Best of the Best.”
Since 1994, Himilce Novas has taught Writing, American literature, Film Writing and other subjects as visiting author/professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB); Wellesley College; Clark University; and Tulane University. During her time at UCSB, she produced and hosted THE NOVAS REPORT, a talk radio program dealing with books and other cultural and contemporary issues from a unique international perspective and a solution-oriented approach to government, education, lifestyles and the arts.
Aside from her professional and literary endeavors, Novas is an eloquent motivational speaker, lecturing across the country at the most prominent universities and prestigious speaking forums.