The setting is Cuba, 1959. For Lucia Alvarez, a coming-of-age teen, her chief concern is spending her summer in the most enjoyable way possible – and her parents’ paranoia over the soldiers in town is only getting in the way. But when Lucia witnesses the arrest and hanging of the beloved neighborhood pharmacist, she realizes that not only her summer but also her entire future is in danger – by Fidel Castro and his Communist revolution.
Amidst the cries of Viva la revolution, Lucia struggles to hold her life together, hoping the revolution will settle down like some predict. But as her former friends join the movement one by one, Lucia watches the Cuba she loves blacken. Lucia knows her family is being watched for their resistance, and the last straw is drawn when a relative betrays them, resulting in her father’s arrest. Lucia’s parents commit the unthinkable and send Lucia and her brother to America alone. As she flies away from the Cuba she once knew, Lucia wonders if she will ever see her homeland – or her parents – again.
With a blunt narrative, The Red Umbrella uses this emotional plot to vividly paint the realities of the Communist revolution in Cuba. It captures the passion of beguiled followers, the reservations of resistors, and the frustration of those caught in between. The injustices that befall Lucia’s family leave no question about the evils of the Communist takeover. But when Lucia flies to America, she shows the reader another half of the Cuban Revolution – the immigration of refugees into the US and their struggle to start over on this foreign, but hope-filled, shore.
This transparent retelling of history has multiple benefits. It accurately portrays the Communistic reality and pungently contrasts it with American society. Lucia’s view of America brings a fresh perspective on the life we take for granted. By using an engaging plot, the book captures a segment of history that is often ignored and makes it accessible to a new generation.
While documenting Lucia’s struggles to grow up, however, the book wavers in its portrayal of adult authority. Though parents are appreciated in the end, they are not always obeyed, with or without consequence. Lucia resists her mother’s control and frequently fights for more “freedom,” even in such trivial things as makeup. Readers must recognize Lucia’s error and instead focus on the more important issues the book covers.
The book’s simplistic style makes for light reading, but a surprising amount of emotion and color is tucked in the up-front 1st-person narrative. It is tame but not superficial – it exposes the readers to the horrors of the Communist regime without stooping to graphic violence. While it is by no means a challenging book, the story’s revealing content makes it a worthy venture even for advanced readers.
However, the book includes a thread of juvenile romance that incites a worrisome amount of sexual content. Most of the references are confined to giggly emotions, but one scene ends in a frightening display of illicit love. A secondary character’s sexual assault is referenced distantly via letter. Additionally, the story contains a few instances of mild language. Lucia, in her attempts to learn English, accidentally says a crude word, and her mother occasionally takes the Lord’s name in vain in Spanish.
In summary, I found The Red Umbrella to be an enjoyable easy read. I was impacted by the honest portrayal of an under-documented segment of American history, but the troubling romance prevented me from enjoying the book in full. I recommend the story for its educational value, but only to readers that are mature enough to handle the sexual content.
Published on 2 March, 2011. Last updated on