Updated: Jul 14
Cantú, Norma Elia. (2019). Cabañuelas: A Novel. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.
This story takes place in 1980 when Nena spends a semester studying, as a Fulbright scholar, at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. She leaves her home and family in Laredo, Texas, to head over the ocean to study the traditional fiestas of Spain, their origins, and their connections to those of south Texas and northern Mexico. While in Spain, she decides that fieldwork will help her in her studies and travels throughout the country experiencing festivals, interviewing locals, and recording her time in photos (some of which are included in the book).
Nena meets some amazing people during her stay, including Paco, a Spaniard, whom she finds herself falling for. Their story, along with Nena's friendships with others, gives us an idea of a post-Franco Spain, with it's history, culture, stories, and contradictions. Nena learns not only about the traditional fiestas she went to study, but also about who she is, where she comes from, and how important all of these elements of her life are in shaping who she is and who she is becoming.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! There were so many components to it that I connected with, from the third sentence of the story all the way until the end. Nena's story reminded me of the time I spent in Brazil as an exchange student. I was shocked when she began discussing the Portuguese word "saudade" at the very beginning. This word, hard to translate, embodies such a powerful feeling of homesickness, sadness, and more. It's such a strong word, that I often find it popping back into my vocabulary even now, 28 years after leaving the country.
It was perplexing to me while in Brazil how people reacted to Americans and American products - both fascination and hatred. Nena experiences this in her travels throughout Spain, as well. Her fellow Fulbright and American friends give her a hard time about immersing herself so much, that she is losing her ability to find English words. I felt and experienced that, as well. And, as a librarian, I can totally relate to her feelings of frustration when a document is not available (misplaced or otherwise) and elation when clue or story is uncovered. One last story I want to share that I remembered while reading, is that of my godmother Mercedes. She was from Spain (she has since passed away), and when my mother first had her over for supper, my mother served hamburgers, baked potatoes, and corn on the cob. This was 1971, and my mother did not know, but Mercedes was horrified to be treated so poorly, like a lowly farm animal. An explanation had to made that in the U.S. corn on the cob was a common food, but in Spain it was fodder for animals. Nena's story of trying to get corn for tortillas, reminded me of this cultural misunderstanding.
I write all of this because it solidifies for me how an author can rope you into their story in many ways. For me, with Cabañuelas, it was these remembrances (and others) that made me feel as if I was Nena and experiencing all this with/as her. And, I just loved reading about the fiestas and life in Spain. Great story. Thank you, Dr. Cantú.
Review by: Cassandra E. Osterloh, NHCC Librarian
Available in the NHCC Library PS3553 .A555 C33 2019