Books: Once on This Island

Part family saga, part social history, a lush novel explores the fertile landscape of Puerto Rico

Though American writers still try it now and then, if only to prove how impossible it's become, weaving a whole country's social history into one great, multilayered novel is mostly a thing of the past in the U.S. What used to seem ambitious now seems arrogant--too many cultures, too many points of view. Elsewhere in the world, however, particularly in smaller countries where the political and the personal are more intimately intertwined, creating an epic of national identity still seems possible. A vital, if daunting, literary task.

This is just the task Rosario Ferre, one of Puerto Rico's leading novelists, sets...

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