Hold on to your hat! You’re in for a frenetic, caffeine-powered roller coaster ride. Jubana reminds me of the old fun house on the beach in San Francisco. You were greeted by a mechanical woman who never stopped laughing. You knew that if you paid for a ticket and went through the door, you’d have a great time. However, there was something dark lurking around the next bend that always kept you just a little on edge.
In November of 1960, two years after the Cuban revolution, Ana and David Anders boarded a plane headed for Miami. Prior to their departure, Castro’s government had unceremoniously relieved them of their home, their assets and their professions. They took with them only what they could carry, including their precocious toddler, Rebeca Beatriz Anders y Benes, otherwise known as Gigi.
The Anders family, unlike most of the Cuban exiles in the U.S., settled in Washington, D.C. where they coped with the loss of affluence, family and cultural identity. The tropical Cuban climate was replaced with cold winters. They railed furiously against Castro for destroying everything dear to them. Gigi, despite her young age, experienced the tumult and loss along with her parents. She also felt abandoned by the adults who, busy building a new life, often left her either in the care of others or to her own devices. She might have been extraordinarily intellectually precocious, but she was completely unprepared for being transported to a new planet where the children are of another species and the institutions that educate them are not prepared to meet the needs of a passionate, creative young Jubana.
The “Awkwardly True and Dazzling Adventures” live up to their subtitle. From her first days in kindergarten, sporting new glasses and orthopedic shoes, to a near miss with her mother’s dream of Gigi in a champagne-colored taffeta wedding gown, Anders uses humor and highly colorful language to create a mesmerizing, bittersweet account of her life to date. Gigi’s storytelling bounces around like a colorful rubber ball and it’s exhilarating, but at times a bit dizzying. Some of the themes are repetitive and got a bit old. These are, however, small issues when contrasted to the overall impact of Jubana.
This is an unusually exuberant and honest piece of writing. You will get to know Gigi and her family, warts and all. Gigi’s Mami is a huge presence in the book, which is littered with her unforgettable Spanglish quips. To Gigi, she is her classically beautiful, uber-glamorous mom, impossible to live with and impossible to live up to. However, by the time you finish this book, you’ll know that Gigi has become a woman who is just as beautiful, interesting and colorful. She is truly unique or as Gigi and Mami would put it, “Jooneek.”
Naomi Tropp recently retired after a long career in nonprofit management. She worked on the Ann Katz Festival of Books at the Indianapolis JCC for 9 of its twelve years and directed the festival for three of those years.