Continue below to read my review of the book and to check out the rest of the stops on the 'UNTIL WE'RE FISH' blog tour brought to you by RANDOM THINGS TOURS, PROPERTIUS PRESS, and SUSANNAH R. DRISSI!
"Revolutions," he was saying, "are never what they seem."
"In his mind, revolutions and shark attacks were one and the same."
'Until We're Fish' by Susanna R. Drissi is more than just a coming of age story, though in the early pages we do experience just that for young Elio, Pepe, and Maria. In fact, the book opens with a bit of a horrifying event.. which really sets the tone for the story.
Set amidst the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution, at first literally nothing but background noise and later becoming a central part of every day life.. the book follows Elio on his quest for Maria's love, the evolution of a friendship he never wanted to have with Pepe, and the reality that plagues them all.
The prose is lyrical and the mood.. mostly somber.. and though the characters struggle, there's a recurring theme of hope.. no matter how hard things seem to get for them.
Elio is really charming. His situation is awful when we meet him and only gets worse, but goodness he tries. He tries to be good and do the right thing, tries to be supportive where he can, and most of all.. tries to keep his head up. He has plenty of little idiosyncrasies and his fair share of trauma.. both emotional and physical, but through it all he mostly maintains that goodness.
That's exactly what makes me dislike everyone around him.. at least a little. At critical times, they're not there when he needs them.. or they openly clash with him, leaving him to be ridiculed at best. Even amongst those who should be there for him.. the relationships just seem very imbalanced.
"Time slipped and fell around her, unanchored. As if parts of her had already begun to drift away."
Now.. I'm not a big history buff, so I can't really dispute the traces I saw in this story. Through a little quick research, I did verify the country suffered things called 'Repudiation Rallies'.. whereby people who were believed to be planning or hoping to leave (possibly even if this wasn't the case).. we're often physically or verbally insulted, or arrested and punished some other way.. as a way of hoping they'd decide to stay. Because.. I suppose making someone's already unhappy life worse.. would totally do that.. right? If it some cases it did succeed, I imagine those people must have been just about terrified as to what else might await them.
It's definitely a tough tale and the likelihood it may be rooted in more truth than I would hope is a hard one to stomach. After what I've seen in of leadership my own home country this year, it certainly doesn't strike me as out of the realm of possibility either. The threat of personal oversight is all laid out here in all its ugly truths.. with friends turning on each other to get their basic needs filled, oppression instilled by a government figure, and fed by the people.. who in reality are just helping that figure keep them down too.
"The guy was allergic to words, let alone ones that might turn into sentences and run for hundreds of pages, only to be continued in Part II."
I recommend giving this story a read. Though it's technically fiction, the glimpse it gives into the struggle people deal with in similar situations.. will be eye-opening. Though I certainly feel like it's still a soft, gauzy representation of those miseries.. it's something to think about and oh.. how the hearts of these undeniably resilient people moved me.
Susannah Rodríguez Drissi, PhD is an award-winning Cuban-born poet, writer, playwright, translator, director, producer, and scholar. She is Faculty in Writing Programs at UCLA, Affiliate Scholar in UC-Cuba Program Initiative, and Associate Literary Editor for Cuba Counterpoints, Cuban and Caribbean Research Studies Institute.
As a 1.5-generation writer (born in Cuba in the 1970s, but coming of age in the US), Rodríguez Drissi writes about Cuba through a double lens—from the vantage point of the native and also from the benefit of a temporal and geographical distance.
Her poems, short stories, creative nonfiction, and reviews have appeared in anthologies such as In Season—Stories of Discovery, Loss, Home, and Places in Between (2018 Florida Book Award Winner); and journals such as the Los Angeles Review of Books, Saw Palm, Literal Magazine, Diario de Cuba (Madrid), SX Salon, Raising Mothers, Acentos Review, Cuba Counterpoints, among other journals.
Following readings at the University of California, Irvine and the University of California, Los Angeles, her award-winning play, Houses Without Walls, premiered at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2018. More recently, her short plays, The Fruit Flies and Rey y Atenea were selected to the 2019 Short+Sweet Theatre Festival and premiered at the Lee Strasberg Film & Theatre Institute, in Los Angeles. Rey y Atenea received an Audience Choice Award and was Finalist for the 2019 NBC Universal Talent Infusion Programs Award.
She is the author of the poetry collection The Latin Poet’s Guide to the Cosmos (Floricanto Press, 2019) and Rey y Atenea / Rey and Atenea, a Bilingual Edition (Cassandra Press, 2019). Her musical, Radio Nocturno, El Musical, was scheduled to premiere at Miami Dade College’s Koubek Center, on August 6th, 2020, directed by Victoria Collado (John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons), musical direction by Jesse Sanchez (Hamilton, national tour), and produced by George Cabrera (