Song of the Boricua

Fiction - Womens
337 Pages
Reviewed on 07/16/2018
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Olivia Castillo is a New York native. After going to the prestigious Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, she went on to study graphic design at Otis Parson's College in Los Angeles. Along with being an entrepreneur, she is the mother of three children, and grandmother of two. When not writing or spending time with her family, she travels the world and paints. Song of the Boricua is her first novel.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Amanda Rofe for Readers' Favorite

Song of the Boricua by Olivia Castillo is a début novel describing the lives of three generations of women; Elena, Josephina and Maria. A generational curse binds the women, causing irreparable damage to each family. Will the curse ever be lifted and peace finally be upon the family? Puerto Rico provides the backdrop to this book which depicts love and betrayal on a grand scale. Song of the Boricua affords a glimpse into the rich history of the island, and the culture and lives of the Puerto Rican people.

Song of the Boricua contains a large cast of characters and spans most of the twentieth century, beginning in the early 1930s. The book deftly switches between different time periods, describing the hope and subsequent tragedy of different generations of women. Olivia Castillo writes a darkly atmospheric and bewitching tale. However, she can also evoke passion and enchantment. Song of the Boricua, which is the Puerto Rican spirit or pride, is a theme which runs throughout the book.

There is a strong musical influence with song words from each era providing a further layer of interest. The racial tensions, political problems, domestic violence and the hardships suffered by the families are all vividly depicted. The complex relationships between the main protagonists and the men they become involved with are sharply defined and very memorable. I enjoyed the many references to the music which spanned the generations, and I learned a lot about the culture and history of Puerto Rico.

Lesley Jones

In Song of the Boricua by Olivia Castillo, on the island of Puerto Rico in 1937, Elena has her sights set on getting an education, and joining the fight for the island's independence. She meets Ricardo, a successful rum producer, and soon marries him under pressure from her impoverished family. Her ambition for an education along with a happy marriage is shattered when Ricardo’s dark nature becomes apparent. She follows Ricardo to New York to save her marriage, leaving her two daughters - Maria and Delia - behind in the care of a cruel guardian. When Elena returns and discovers the abuse of her children, the guardian places a curse on her and generations to follow. The story follows three generations of women as they try to find a life filled with happiness and true love while the dark shadow of the curse looms over them. Follow the lives of one family as they deal with the repercussions of making the wrong choices of destructive or loveless relationships and how these decisions will affect the generations that follow.

When I began reading Song of the Boricua by Olivia Castillo, I thought that the number of characters and story line would be difficult to follow. I could not have been more wrong; the plot of this story was not only enthralling and engaging, but drew me into the world of this family. The author has created such a diverse cast of characters, each with their own strong personality. I didn’t feel there were any villains in this story because you were allowed to see their backstory, and could understand why they acted in a certain way. I loved the lively spirit of Corinna especially, and the tortured soul of Isabella was heartbreaking. This is an amazing saga of family relationships and gives you an incredible sense of self-awareness of how your upbringing can affect the choices you make and your view of the world and others. I have been taken on an emotional roller coaster throughout this novel and the ending was heart wrenching but perfect.

Joel R. Dennstedt

Song of the Boricua by Olivia Castillo is a multi-generational novel about Puerto Rican families, spanning the decades from early coffee exploitation and island wealth through U.S. intervention and cultural domination to contemporary diaspora and integration into mainstream American life. As might be expected of such wide-ranging coverage, Castillo’s look at Puerto Rico’s ancestors and descendants offers a multi-perspective menu of an intensely local fare: including past plantation owners, soldier sons, many headstrong daughters, mothers and fathers largely characterized by their time and place in Puerto Rican history, all finding definition through such history by way of an intricate web of multi-colored relationships, some deeply loving, some deeply flawed, some strained and volatile, but all connected to the deep passion inherited from Puerto Rican culture. And a witch’s curse.

Olivia Castillo chooses an effective if disjointed manner in which to tell her multi-generational tale, Song of the Boricua. As if watching a collage of rapidly passing slides, the reader takes many sudden leaps through time and space, finding himself engaged in short, expository moments, totally non-linear in nature, in which he is given but a glance into a particular life moment of one or more characters chosen among an entire cast of family members spanning several generations. For some, this may make it difficult to keep the stories contextually straight, but this method also keeps Castillo’s book urgent in the moment and intriguing overall. One may know what is coming, but does not yet know why. In the end, however, this overriding story of multiple generations forms a tapestry brought to completion with understanding and final appreciation.

Divine Zape

Song of the Boricua by Olivia Castillo is a novel that spans three generations, following the lives of compelling women who could have made a difference, but whose lives seem to be stuck with their material choices. Are they cursed to never find love or can they follow their hearts, regardless of what society expects of them? In a story set in Puerto Rico, readers encounter compelling women. Maria is the one with the papaya-tinted cheeks and large doe-like eyes, fiery in nature and stubborn, but she is married to someone she doesn’t love. Elena is a fighter and a woman whose ambitions are impeded by her devotion to her children. What can Josephina, a very sensitive and romantic woman, do with an alcoholic for a husband? And can the spiritually awakened Isabella come to terms with her roots?

What struck me first when I started reading this gorgeous book was the author’s gift for storytelling, exploring characters in ways that are unique and allowing the cultural as well as the physical aspects of the setting to come out neatly through the narrative. There are local expressions that are skillfully woven into the narrative and they reflect the cultural backdrop against which the stories take place. The characters are beautifully imagined and they seem to represent a segment of society composed of people struggling between their deepest desires and external pressures. The humanity of the characters comes across vividly through the narrative and their dilemmas create the catalysts that move the conflict. Song of the Boricua is a novel for readers who love strong characters and novels infused with realism. Olivia Castillo handles conflict with rare mastery and constructs deep emotional and psychological layers in the story. Great prose, marvellous characters, a fine sense of humor, and excellent pacing.

Romuald Dzemo

What happens when a passionate woman gets married to someone she doesn’t love, or imagine a sweet woman bound to an alcoholic? What can an ambitious woman do when she is burdened by the care of her children, and what happens when a woman gifted with insight feels that she does not belong? In this multi-generational tale, Olivia Castillo takes her readers into a beautifully imagined Puerto Rican setting to follow the lives of Maria, Isabella, Elena, and Josephina, powerful and gifted women whose lives can’t be the way they have always wanted because of family, marriage, or societal norms. The question is: Can they acquire the inner freedom to make choices that align with their deepest desires?

Song of the Boricua is one of the best books I have read that brilliantly explores the place of women in society. The author does an impeccable job in unveiling the different ways women are limited in pursuing their dreams and becoming the people they want to be. The narrative is done in a compelling and clear voice, with a setting that is vivid, and with references to cultural elements like the language and exciting places. The characters are real and relatable and the author integrates a strong sense of emotion alongside the exciting character development. I enjoyed the prose and Olivia Castillo’s unique turn of phrase and apt diction. The author uses humor to embellish the narrative and creates suspense that compels readers to keep on turning the pages. Song of the Boricua is an interesting read, as exciting as it is insightful.