Publication Date: August 1, 2013
In Island of the White Rose by R. Ira Harris, it’s 1958 in Cuba, and Father Pedro Villanueva was happy to comply with his family’s wish that he joins the priesthood once his first love broke his heart. Now he’s having some doubts and he’s seeing social injustice under the reign of Batista that disturbs him greatly. The position of the church is to not address politics, but Pedro wants to help, and the best way he can see to accomplish his goal is to join the revolution. Fidel Castro seems like a man who wants positive change but all may not be what it seems. In the meantime, another member of the resistance had caught Pedro’s eye and heart. Can he resist temptation or will their love blossom against all odds?
The author’s publisher, Bridge Works Books, provided me with a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
Were to I market Island of the White Rose, I’m not sure I would market it as a love story. Sure, there is a romantic subplot but the story more involves the struggle of a man in a tough time forced to witness and do terrible things and his personal journey. Island of the White Rose is the story of Father Pedro the Revolution.
Island of the White Rose is a rich tale. Cuba of the 1950s is vividly painted on the page. It was a place of wealth for few and injustice for many. Families would have children disappear from the streets never to be seen again or, worse, to be found in La Cabana — the jail — where people were treated as animals. They were locked in small cages and executed on the thinnest of pretenses. In Harris’s tale, it is clear that part of the problem, as happens in such a society, is the almost sexual high a person gets from dominating others and wringing every ounce of fear from them.
Pedro, at points, is too good a character. He is a reluctant participant in the revolution. Change must come and he sees that but he doesn’t see the point of change if it comes in the path of destruction. He is willing to follow the leader and doesn’t see the risk in front of him. In the story, he and his brother go into a situation believing that they have the upper hand because they have one gun between them. Logic would say within a story that Pedro should have been armed as well but he is too principled for that sort of work. Pedro is a dreamy romantic. He loves the sensual flash but it’s the home-grown charm that really gets him going. He is an idealist in a world without room for idealism. He is a character with whom the reader connects. His fire burns brightly in the story.
One very minor comment in the story that caught this reader’s attention was when Pedro and Maria were talking about music and Pedro told her that he studied in Interlochen, Michigan. I know this will not have significance to 99% of my readers but I was immediately transported to my mom driving my very talented uncle there for music camp in the 70s. How leafy and pretty it was and how unlike Havana, though I’ve never been there, it must be. I believe Domingo also mentions later in the story that Miami is like Cuba but the rest of America is not. I laughed when he told Pedro that if he goes to America that he must get a dog because everyone in America has a dog. The slight mentions cause the sense of setting to roar through the pages at this reader.
I will not spoil the ending and will only say that it was spectacular and really, in hindsight, the only way to finish the novel. Island of the White Rose was pure craftsmanship and attention to detail from start to finish. it is the story of a revolution and a very enjoyable one. If you like historical fiction or good literature Island of the White Rose is the novel for you.
Island of the White Rose is a fabulous first outing by a very talented author. The novel earned honorable mention at the New York and Hollywood Book Festivals.