Song for Olivia

A Novel Based on a True Story

Young Adult - Coming of Age
216 Pages
Reviewed on 05/23/2023
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Essien Asian for Readers' Favorite

Mari was only a child when Fidel Castro and his guerrillas took control of Cuba from the Batista regime. She did not believe that her family could have any reason to fear for their lives until the rumors started filtering in about summary executions and the hunt for members of Batista's government, and their neighbors turned on them with envious eyes. They were forced to flee to the relative safety of America and start their lives from scratch. Song for Olivia by Maruchi Mendez is the chronicle of a family's forced exodus from their homeland and the effect it had on them over the years as seen through the innocent eyes of a young girl.

Maruchi Mendez delivers her take on Castro’s violent takeover of the island of Cuba from a unique point of view. Her account is relatively detailed and filled with the innocence and expectations of a girl eager to become a woman. You can feel the emotion envelope you as you read about the fate of those whose only fault was being successful while surrounded by poverty. Spare a thought for the emotional anguish Mari’s father endured while yearning for his homeland, and her mother’s determination to keep her family’s inheritance from thieving usurpers. Tony and Olivia’s ordeal as a young couple was repeated in the homes of many Cuban exiles spread across the United States. Although a fictional account, Mendez’s emotional and impressive way of telling her story in Song for Olivia puts a human face on an incident whose ripple in history continues to affect the present.

Pikasho Deka

Based on a true story, Song For Olivia follows a Cuban immigrant family, forced to flee their country during Fidel Castro's communist regime, who eventually find refuge in Miami, Florida. Written by Maruchi Mendez, the book is narrated from the POV of Mari, the daughter of Lorenzo Solano, a cabinet member of the Batista government during the turbulent 50s in Havana, Cuba. Mari and her family's affluent lives were turned upside down after the Castro militia overthrew the Batista government, forcing the Solanos to flee to Miami to evade imprisonment or worse. Starting their lives anew, Mari's eldest sister Olivia falls in love with a young man named Tony. However, tragedy strikes again after Tony is recruited by the CIA, leading him to become one of the captives during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Will Olivia and Tony ever reunite?

Set against the backdrop of the political turmoil that followed the advent of Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba, Song For Olivia is a story of a family finding political asylum in the US told through the perspective of a young girl. Maruchi Mendez incorporates real-life events and personalities to tell a moving tale of two sisters who became bonded for life and beyond due to circumstances that were never in their control. The story sheds light on the atrocities suffered by the descendants of Fidel Castro and shows how many people lost family members and friends as they became political pawns. The plot centers around Mari's and Olivia's lives as they navigate the various aspects of life, including love, loss, and tragedy in their adopted country. A gem of a book for historical fiction readers.

Maria Victoria Beltran

Song for Olivia is a captivating story by Maruchi Mendez. The plot revolves around the plight of an affluent Cuban family as they escaped from Cuba at the outbreak of Fidel Castro’s revolution. Living a life of privilege as daughters of an official of the Batista government, Olivia, Lucia, and Mari’s lives took a completely different turn as their family ended up in a small house in Miami, Florida. They flee Cuba with chants of “paredon” or firing squad haunting them. With jobs being scarce in Miami, their father was lucky to find a job as a dishwasher in a pizza restaurant. The family struggled to survive in their adopted country, leaving behind their wealth and everything they loved and cherished. And as they rebuild their lives, their past will catch up with them. This is their story.

Maruchi Mendez’s Song for Olivia is a powerful story about exile, displacement, family, and resilience. A master storyteller, Mendez effectively portrays the trauma that Mari and her family experienced as their lives came crashing down and their emotional turmoil during their exile. As such, it is easy to empathize with them as they feel the fear and uncertainty of leaving their home and face the seemingly insurmountable challenges of starting over in a foreign country. It also gives us a glimpse of Cuban-American history, touching on the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion. With exile and displacement still ongoing, the story’s theme is timely and relevant. Song for Olivia is a must-read for those interested in the immigrant experience, identity, and the search for a sense of belonging. Highly recommended!