BOOKS: THIS EARTHY ISLAND

AN EXTRAORDINARY NEW NOVEL DOES JUSTICE TO THE CUBA OF HISTORY AS WELL AS THE CUBA OF IMAGINATION

Reina Aguero fixes electrical wires in Fidel Castro's Cuba, while living with the "remnants of a bird's nest" in the chandelier of her decaying house; Constancia Aguero Cruz basks in affluent loneliness in Key Biscayne, Fla., where Cuban songs play "slow as regret, on the afternoon radio." Constancia wears Adolfo suits as she drives her pink Cadillac to the factory she owns; Reina sashays braless among the mahogany trees. Yet though they live on opposite sides of the revolution, both Aguero sisters share something deep as blood: a matter-of-fact commitment to the magic of their island of honey and rum. Constancia...

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