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Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise
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Hijuelos was fascinated by the Twain-Stanley connection and eventually began researching and writing a novel that used the scant historical record of their relationship as a starting point for a more detailed fictional account. It was a labor of love for Hijuelos, who worked on the project for more than ten years, publishing other novels along the way but always returning to Twain and Stanley; indeed, he was still revising the manuscript the day before his sudden passing in 2013.
The resulting novel is a richly woven tapestry of people and events that is unique among the author’s works, both in theme and structure. Hijuelos ingeniously blends correspondence, memoir, and third-person omniscience to explore the intersection of these Victorian giants in a long vanished world.
From their early days as journalists in the American West, to their admiration and support of each other’s writing, their mutual hatred of slavery, their social life together in the dazzling literary circles of the period, and even a mysterious journey to Cuba to search for Stanley’s adoptive father, Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise superbly channels two vibrant but very different figures. It is also a study of Twain’s complex bond with Mrs. Stanley, the bohemian portrait artist Dorothy Tennant, who introduces Twain and his wife to the world of sv©ances and mediums after the tragic death of their daughter.
A compelling and deeply felt historical fantasia that utilizes the full range of Hijuelos’ gifts, Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise stands as an unforgettable coda to a brilliant writing career.
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Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise is about the way the lives of Mark Twain and Henry Morton Stanley, two famous nineteenth-century Victorians, intersected. Frankly, I began writing it because their characters, as I researched them and from what I had deduced from their writings, seemed a perfect pairing. They in fact were good friends, even if (eventually) they held quite conflicting views about imperialism and the colonization of Africa. And there is something else: No one has ever written about their lives together, and that simply appealed to me.
The spine of the book involves the trajectory of their relationship: the way Stanley first came to know Twain as a newcomer to America from Wales in the late 1850s, their very similar careers as journalists in the American West, and finally, after each had achieved great fame at about the same time, how their friendship over the years proceeded.
It is a fact that Henry Stanley's wife, one Dorothy Tennant, was a highly regarded artist in nineteenth-century London. A flamboyant aristocrat of bohemian proclivities, she painted a number of portraits of Stanley, one of which is quite well known. Later, as I have configured the novel, she paints Twain's portraits—she has him sitting for her as he talks about the poignancies of his existence. Along the way, though he is certainly deeply in love with his wife, Livy, a quite frail, constantly ill woman, Twain, tired of his life's adversities, becomes hypnotized, as it were, by Stanley's wife, a voluptuous seductress at heart, whom he came to dote upon. In that way it is a triangle, with Twain, as I imagine him, unconsciously falling in love with Tennant despite her many eccentricities and his unflagging loyalty to his wife.
I am also fairly convinced that, in London of the 1890s, when Twain and his wife were grieving over the tragic loss of their daughter Susy, it was Dorothy Tennant—whose brother-in-law, Frederic Myers, was the head of London's Society for Psychical Research—who took them around to various mediums and séances. To help ease Livy's suffering, and out of curiosity, Twain played along, but rather skeptically so. Despite an earlier experience with the supernatural—namely, a premonition he once had as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi, foretelling, in precise detail, the death of his younger brother, Henry, in 1858—Twain doesn't buy any of it. When confronted with a spiritualist who seemingly "channels" their daughter's ghost, he still refuses to believe, as Dorothy Tennant certainly does, that there might be something to such a phenomenon. Not to throw around ten-dollar words, but thematically speaking, the novel pursues that dichotomy in Twain. Recording that premonition about his brother's death extensively in Life on the Mississippi, and often retelling that story during his life, he remained in denial, and rather doggedly so, of the supernatural: And yet, at the same time, he somewhat envied people, like Dorothy Tennant, who, however deluded, took solace in such beliefs.
Then there is the notion of "paradise," as alluded to in the title. For Twain it came down to his memories of his fairly happy, carefree youth, the sweet energies of which he put into his most famous book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (I have Stanley taking this book with him on his 1886 expedition to rescue Emin Pasha in Africa, a notion I latched on to based on a statement Twain once made to that effect.) Twain's "paradise" also entailed his love for a family that, as the years went by, simply vanished—two of his three daughters died, then his wife; I find it a supreme irony that a man who brought so much joy into the world, and whose own beginnings had been so happy, suffered so unfairly. What paradise remained for him came down to what he had captured so beautifully in his books and in his lingering friendships.
For Stanley, whose life began so badly—his childhood in Wales spent in a workhouse as a ward of the British state; his dangerous but successful enterprises on behalf of King Léopold in Africa eventually, perhaps unfairly, linked to the atrocities committed in that region "for rubber and ivory tusks"—this "paradise" came belatedly, in his later years. In the mid-1890s, Stanley and his wife adopted a son and retreated to a country estate in Surrey where Twain and Livy stayed as guests on at least three occasions. (To quote Twain himself, "Stanley's was the last country estate in England I ever visited.") There, after a lifetime of wanderings, he found his contentment in the company of his affectionate adoptive son. Of course, even Stanley's autumnal happiness had its limitations. Shunned by polite society over his African exploits, he became a recluse save for the company of certain friends such as Mark Twain. Plagued by recurring bouts of malaria and other "Africa-borne" diseases, he eventually entered his decline, his only solace coming not from any nostalgia for the past but from the love of his little family, the achievement of a lifelong solitary's dream.
Of course, much more happens. There is Twain's failure to persuade Stanley to write a book for his Charles L. Webster and Company publishing house upon his triumphant return from Africa in 1889, a fiasco that their friendship somehow survived; their mutual admiration for each other as writers (for a time, with Kipling, they were the most famous authors in the English-speaking world); their bouts of bad health (it was Twain who put Stanley onto the dubious holistic wonder cure known as Plasmon); and their mutual hatred of slavery—Twain was the head of an antislavery society for many years, and Stanley, as far as he was concerned, had done much to limit slavery in Africa, lecturing all over England for that cause. There were also their public lectures together and the soirees they attended—in London, Twain at one point introduced Stanley to a "promising young Scottish writer" by the name of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, and Stanley introduced Twain to one of his wife's American friends, a demure fellow named Henry James, who often came to their house and met Twain on several occasions.
However, as a writer best known for certain subjects, I also intend the book to give a glance at nineteenth-century Cuba, mainly through the journeys the men made in their lifetimes to that island. Stanley went there in the early 1860s, during the American Civil War, a time when Cuba, with its strong Havana–New Orleans sugar-tobacco trade and many Southern inhabitants, seemed an extension of the South. (Had the Confederates won the war they would have annexed Cuba as a state.) In that regard, Stanley's travels there draw a picture of Havana circa 1864 or so, when the Confederates had filled the warehouses of the harbor with ammunitions and supplies and when surly Southern brigades, knowing how the war was going, stoically manned the docks. Twain journeyed there in 1902, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, and having invited Stanley along by way of a letter to England—Stanley was too ill to make the transatlantic voyage—he toured the island from one end to the other aboard a yacht, the last great adventure of his life (Twain was in his late sixties by then).
The novel extends from the late 1850s to 1910 and somewhat beyond and before, skirting back and forth in time. It culminates in Twain's last visit to London, in 1907. Stanley, a little more than five years younger, had died in 1904, and Twain, in England to receive an honorary doctorate in letters from Oxford, spent an afternoon with Dorothy Tennant for tea. (It's in the records.) She had remarried by then, to the very surgeon who had attended to Stanley in his last days, but the house remained filled with remembrances of her late husband. After some niceties, tea served, she persuaded Twain to sit for her one last time, for a fast "wishy-wash" of a portrait. And so Twain, still enchanted by the lady, who had not aged a day since he first met her in 1890 and for whom he still felt some furtive longings, sat for her again. What did they talk about? That's something the novel will tell.
IN AN 1889 ENGRAVING for the frontispiece of London Street Arabs, Dorothy Tennant is posed in profile, her jewelry-laden left hand just grazing her plumpish chin. It captured her well. She had a high, gracefully rising forehead and a great head of curling, perhaps graying hair, pensive brows, a nose that was prominent but not oppressive, thin and pursing lips, delicate and fleshy ears, and eyes that were dark and alert, her features bringing to mind a classical portrait of a Roman or Greek lady.
Tennant was a woman of wealth and high social bearing who lived in a Regency mansion on Richmond Terrace, off Whitehall, in London. This rendering of her was made but a year before her marriage to Henry Morton Stanley, explorer and "Napoleon" of journalists, whose roots had been so humble that his childhood experiences and poor upbringing in Wales would have been an abstraction to her, for her own experience had never included want or deprivation. That she, the artistic and lively pearl of London society, had become involved and happily betrothed to Stanley after a well-known period of difficulties between them was one of the great mysteries of Victorian courtships.
Like just about everyone else in England, she had been caught up in the national frenzy over Africa, having followed with rapt interest the careers of Livingstone, Baker, Cameron, Speke, and Burton, among others, whose exploits were reported in all the newspapers and commemorated in books. She had been in her adolescence when the first of these explorations began, but by 1871 the greatest of all such explorers, Henry Morton Stanley, had emerged. He first became known for his search to find the Scottish missionary David Livingstone. His later activities in the region, principally in the Congo, where he had spent many years leading other expeditions, often under impossible conditions, had only increased his stature as a heroic figure in the public mind. Stanley had been so successful in opening the equatorial center of the continent that he had become one of the most famous men in England. ("Before Stanley there was no Africa," Tennant would later write.)
Despite Stanley's mercurial personality and the burden of his many maladies, such as chronic gastritis and numerous bouts of malaria—"the Africa in me," he called it—their marriage had flourished, and they became one of the most famous couples in England. Tennant's haughty circle of friends intersected with Stanley's colleagues and acquaintances—professional relationships, for the most part. But now and then there surfaced the occasional true friendship, such as the one he had with the American writer Samuel L. Clemens, or Mark Twain, as he was most famously called.
Tennant first met Clemens at a dinner in New York City while accompanying Stanley on a lecture tour of the United States. It was an introduction that culminated, in the month of January, 1891, with an invitation to visit Clemens at his Hartford home on Farmington Avenue, where Dorothy and her mother, Gertrude, spent a most diverting few days with him and his family (at the time, Stanley was away, lecturing in Trenton and other cities in New Jersey). Thereafter, over the next decade and a half, she and Stanley saw them on various occasions, principally in London, where the Clemenses lived in the mid-1890s, then later, at the turn of the century, when they had taken up residence in England once again.
In those years, paying socials calls to the Tennant mansion on Richmond Terrace, Clemens passed many hours in their company, giving impromptu recitations for their friends at dinners, shooting billiards, and occasionally withdrawing into her studio, a canvas-and prop-cluttered room known as the birdcage, to sit as a portrait subject for Dorothy, who, in her day, was greatly admired as an artist.
It had been her wish to present a portrait of Clemens to the National Portrait Gallery, as she had done in 1893 with a commendable rendering of her explorer husband, whom she had captured in all his splendor. Dolly had made dozens of studies of Stanley during their early courtship and dozens more in the years after their marriage—each session an immersion, she felt, into the spirit of her subject, for once he had become trusting of her, fruitful conversations ensued, and his tortured soul poured naturally forth.
The same kind of exchanges took place with Clemens, from whom Dolly had learned details about his private life—his joyfulness and pride in his family; the pain of certain devastating events that made his later years difficult. She had spent perhaps twenty hours sketching him. He had been an occasionally distracted subject, fidgeting with a cigar, getting up at any moment to stretch his stiff limbs, often staring out the window to look at the Irish perennials in her garden and sometimes losing patience with the whole idea of sitting still. Yet when she got him to talking about the things that made him happy, mainly his youth in Hannibal—the perpetually springlike wonderland from which his most memorable characters flowed—time stopped, his discomforts left him, and a serenity came over his famously leonine countenance.
"AS YOU SURELY KNOW, DOLLY, I have always been fond of Stanley. Not that he's the easiest person to understand, but he kind of grows on a body. His convictions, his work ethic, his knowledge of many things—these qualities appeal to me, even if I do not always agree with him. He's not the easiest person to get along with, by any stretch, which, by the way, I do not mind. And he is one of the moodiest people I have ever known, besides myself, and has been so ever since I first knew him. Our saving grace is that we have similar temperaments and can disagree or feel gloomy or cantankerous around each other without standing on ceremony; we are just that way."
He had paused then to relight a cigar, drawing from his vest pocket a match, which he struck against the heel of his shoe.
"Somehow, ours has been a friendship that's lasted. I cannot say that he is as close to me as my best friends in the States, but I hold him in considerable esteem just the same. The fact is we go back together to simpler times, an enviable thing. As much as he has changed over the years, he is not so different from the young man I met years ago, on a riverboat—you know of this, do you not?"
"He told me once that you met long ago."
"Indeed we did. It was a friendship that commenced by chance—on the boiler deck of a steamboat heading upriver, between New Orleans and St. Louis… in the autumn of 1860, just before the Civil War, during my days as a Mississippi River pilot."
A plume of bluish smoke.
"Stanley was traveling in the company of his adoptive American father, a merchant trader who plied the Mississippi port towns. He was Stanley's mentor in New Orleans and a great influence on his manner of dress and grooming, and he did much, as I remember, to advance his son's education, which by my lights was already considerable. Stanley was one of the better-read young men on that river. Of course I already knew some bookish types; Horace Bixby, a fellow pilot, got me to reading William Shakespeare, and occasionally I'd meet some traveling professor or any number of journalists with whom I could sometimes talk about literature. But Stanley, in those days, with his good common-school English education—one that he was modest about—was quite a cut above the average Mississippi traveler. And he seemed the most guileless and unassuming fellow one could ever encounter, to boot."
He puffed on his cigar again, and even as he was speaking, conjured, in his mind, the sight of drowsy still waters at dusk, campfires along the Mississippi River dotting the shore with light, the stars beginning to rise.
"He always had a book in hand and seemed anxious to learn about the world: I found myself beguiled by him, and I was touched that he seemed to be in need of a friend. We were both young men—I was twenty-five or so, and I believe Stanley was then about nineteen, the same age as my dear recently deceased younger brother, also named Henry. I suppose I was ready and willing to befriend Stanley for that reason alone, though who knows how or why chance happens to place a person in one's path. Whatever the mysterious cause, our friendship blossomed and eventually led to a quite interesting run of years. I am surprised that he has not told you more about our beginnings."
SHE SITS DOWN TO WRITE a letter in the parlor of her mansion, the interior unchanged from the day Stanley had died, three years before, at six in the morning, just as Big Ben was ringing in that hour from a distance. In its rooms many of Stanley's possessions and keepsakes remain where she had put them; in the hallways, framed photographs of Stanley on safari, Stanley in Zanzibar with his native porters, Stanley poised on a cliff in the rainbow mists of Victoria Falls. A bookcase bears a multitude of first editions and translations of his African memoirs. Atop the numerous tables and travertine pedestals are a variety of ornate freedom caskets from cities like Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Swansea, and Manchester, each honoring Stanley for one or the other of his African exploits. Here and there, hanging on a wall, are plaques that Stanley had particularly liked. One of them, harking back to 1872, when he had become famous for finding Livingstone in the wilds of Africa, reads:
A COMMON COUNCIL
Holden in the chamber of Guildhall, of the City of London
On Thursday, the 21st day of November, 1872,
That this court desires to express its great appreciation of the eminent services rendered by
MR. HENRY MORTON STANLEY
To the cause of science and humanity by his persistent and successful endeavors to discover and relieve that zealous and persevering
Missionary and African Traveller,
DR. DAVID LIVINGSTONE,
The uncertainty of whose fate had caused such deep anxiety, not only to Her Majesty's subjects, but to the whole civilised world.
There are framed maps of Africa and bronze busts of Stanley lining the hallways and several Minton biscuit figurines of Stanley—the kind that were sold for years in the tourist shops of Piccadilly—set out on a parlor table. On a desk in Lady Stanley's own study, just down the hall from her painting studio, sit her commonplace books and a manuscript of her own writings—the fragments of a memoir (never to be completed) called My Life with Henry Morton Stanley—alongside a plaster cast of Stanley's left hand, which she keeps for good luck. But there is also much more about Stanley—diplomas, royal decrees, gold medals (the Order of Léopold and the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath from the late queen; the Grand Cordon of the Imperial Order of Medijdieh from the khedive of Egypt)—to come upon in that house. There are also many other keepsakes—old compasses, sextants, and other instruments as well as various native African artifacts, such as Zulu fly whisks, spearheads, and phallic oddities brought back by Stanley after his journeys—on display in a curio cabinet.
As she writes, his presence is inescapable. Even as she is about to remarry, in a few weeks, Lady Stanley has never gotten around to removing a thing from Stanley's private bedroom—they had sometimes slept apart. His wardrobe closet still contains the Savile Row suits he favored, along with his shirts, his lace bow ties, his vests, suspenders, stockings, his walking sticks, and many pairs of his distinctively smallish-size shoes. Even his bedside table has remained as it was the morning he left her—a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles sitting atop the pages of a Bible, opened to the chapters of Genesis. Nor has she touched the mantel clock with Ottoman numerals, except to rewind it nightly; nor has she removed from that chamber the other books he had taken much comfort in: Gladstone's Gleanings of Past Years, a volume of autobiographical essays that Stanley admired despite his personal dislike of the man ("I detect the churchgoing, God-fearing, conscientious Christian in almost every paragraph," he had written); the histories of Thucydides; and two novels, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens ("That boy was me, in my youth," he once said) and another by his old friend Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—the very copy Stanley had carried with him on his final expedition to Africa.
And along with the framed photographs he had asked to be placed near him as he had lain in his bed, beside those of Denzil, Queen Victoria, and Livingstone, there are several oil studies made by Lady Stanley in earlier days: Stanley sitting on the lawn of their country estate in Surrey; a portrait of Samuel Clemens that Dolly had commenced some years before in her studio.
From Lady Stanley to Samuel Clemens
May 11, 1907
2 Richmond Terrace, Whitehall, London
I have been going through Henry's many papers and notebooks in my attempt to fill out his history. In his study, he kept several large cabinets of facsimiles of letters, old manuscripts, and notebooks. He was a hoarder of all things pertaining to himself, perhaps for the sake of the historical record, and so, as you may well imagine, there has been quite a bit to consider. Lately, I have made it my habit to spend a part of my days searching for materials pertinent to the story of his life—no easy task, given their volume. It is a labor I have conducted in slow but steady measures.
In any event, I have come across a manuscript that I had never seen before. It is a manuscript I believe Henry had commenced shortly after we had visited New Orleans in the autumn of 1890, while on tour for dear Major Pond, when Henry's memories of his life there, after an absence of thirty years, had been freshly reawakened. Since much of it was written out on stationery from hotel and steamship lines, with which I am familiar, having accompanied Stanley on his tours of the States and Australia in 1891 and 1892, I date its composition to that time. At first, I had thought the manuscript a preliminary version of the chapters regarding his first years in his adopted country, which Henry would later refine. But as I read on I was surprised to see how much it diverged from what he later left as the "official" version, for these pages contain an untold story. And that story has presented me, as the amateur compiler of his life, with a very great dilemma.
And here it is: In the completed sections of the autobiography, which he approved for publication, he plainly states that Henry Hope Stanley, the merchant trader from New Orleans whom he considered his second father, had vanished during a journey to Cuba, where he had a business: "He died in 1861. I did not learn this until long afterward," is how he summarized it. Yet the "cabinet" manuscript, if I may call it so, seems to be an elaborate explanation of Henry's search for his father in Cuba, a journey he claims, in these pages, to have made in the days of late March and early April of 1861, with you.
Samuel, as delighted as I had been over this unexpected revelation, you must imagine the state of perplexity it put me in. For this manuscript contradicts what Henry once told me about his experiences in Cuba, which he claimed to have visited only once, in 1865; he said that he made that journey to see his adoptive father's grave for himself, the elder Mr. Stanley having been buried "in some churchyard near Havana." And the only time he had mentioned you in relation to his early days in America—in fact, while we were strolling down the Vieux Carré of New Orleans during our 1891 journey there—he referred to your chance meeting "along some stretch of the Mississippi," aboard a riverboat, years ago. But he never elaborated about your early friendship, nor did he begin to hint at the extent to which he had, in fact, privately written about you. Since it was obviously Henry's wish to exclude this narrative from his official story, I am assuming that he had his reasons, upon which I hope you will shed some light. I have taken the liberty of sending you a typescript version (Henry's original, often written in a postmalarial state, suffers from stains and an addled penmanship). Once you have read it, I hope you can answer this question: Was it so, Samuel?
THE CABINET MANUSCRIPT
My Early Days in New Orleans, 1859
WHEN I ARRIVED IN NEW ORLEANS from England, aboard an American packet ship, the Windermere, it was as a despised and loathed cabin boy without a friend in the city. Prior to my voyage I had worked for a butcher in Liverpool, such as was my own father in Denbigh, may God rest his soul, and like all children who are raised without the touchstones of paternity and in poverty, I had become overly trusting of complete strangers. Some seven weeks back, on a solemnly gray day, while the Windermere lay in port, I had made the delivery of some meat goods to the ship's cook, the blood bleeding into my coat sleeves, and because I had been so respectful in my dealings with him, the captain thought me a fine candidate for a life at sea. In truth I was not happy with my current profession, so when the captain offered me a position—that of a cabin boy, with its promise of adventure—I believed him and signed on eagerly.
The reality turned out differently. Aboard the Windermere the same kinds of abuses I had endured at St. Asaph Union Workhouse were repeated. Landlubbers such as I were held in the lowest regard by the seasoned mates. It had not helped my situation to have often fallen ill with seasickness; that was one thing, humiliation and grief another. For even in my illness I was often rousted from my cot by a mate who said he would skin me alive unless I scrubbed down the deck for no good reason. After some fifty-two days at sea, with stops in the Canary Islands, Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba, we had come into New Orleans, and my romance with the wild seafaring life had subsided.
- "Oscar Hijuelos, who left us suddenly and far too soon, has been deeply missed by those of us who were his friends-missed both as a friend and as a writer. The friend will not be coming back, but what a miracle that he has given us this last novel-which is a fine and wonderful novel, and surely among the best books Oscar ever wrote."—Paul Auster
- "The great Oscar Hijuelos lives on in this ambitious, fascinating, and richly detailed work that, like the author, is in a class by itself."—Gay Talese
- "TWAIN & STANLEY ENTER PARADISE is a natural and delightful extension of Hijuelos' work, and like his earlier books, this one is distinguished by vitality so intense as to give the reader a charge just picking up the book. . . . a voice that is haunting and mesmerizing, and a story that shows just how fantastic and enjoyable Oscar Hijuelos' imagination really was."—Craig Nova, author of The Good Son
- "What a wonder to have Oscar Hijuelos return from the celestial beyond with a tale that is thoroughly of this world and firmly anchored in history! TWAIN & STANLEY ENTER PARADISE is a marvelous blend of research and the imagination, resurrecting two fascinating contemporaries-Mark Twain and Henry Morton Stanley-and lending a bygone era the shimmer of here and now."—Marie Arana, author of American Chica, Cellophane, and Bolívar: American Liberator.
- "An extraordinary feat of imaginative historical re-creation."—Booklist (starred review)
- "Vividly imagined and detailed epic...How lucky we are to have this rich novel."—Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
- "The final masterpiece by the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer....Twain fans, get ready."—Huffington Post
- "A magical story."—David Baldacci, CBS Sunday Morning
- "This book is good news for Hijuelos fans."—Kirkus
- "So sad that this is our last Hijuelos novel, so fabulous that we have it."—Library Journal (starred review)
- "A brilliant posthumous capstone."—EW.com
- "It is a rollicking adventure tale, bromance, and portrait of two fascinating men who battled their way to prominence during an era defined by yellow fever, the Civil War, and a pioneering American zeal."—O, The Oprah Magazine
- Praise for Mr. Ives' Christmas:
"A rich and sorrowful novel...that alternates crisp narrative with opulent musings--the language of everyday and the language of longing. You finish feeling...ready to throw up your arms and cry, Que bueno es! Mr. Hijuelos is writing music of the heart"—New York Times Book Review
"I fell instantly in love with the glorious soul ofBeautiful Maria of my Soul. Hijuelos has created and brought to life two beloved characters, a heart-stealing heroine and Havana during an epoch of changing life."—Amy Tan, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife
- On Sale
- Oct 4, 2016
- Page Count
- 496 pages
- Grand Central Publishing