Laura was killed by her husband Cezar, leaving their two young children, Delfina and Stephan, in the care of Cezar's parents. But that was long ago. Now Nani, Delfina's grandmother is dying, and all the Aunts are there to see her through the end. Throughout her life, Delfina has wondered about her mother and raged against her grandmother. But Nani has been hiding something which she pushed deep inside ever since she was the young and pretty Tatiana, marrying the man she adored. This is "Tatiana's Wedding" by Cynthia A. Robinson.
Stories about families with dark secrets are nothing new. Stories about passion and love both requited and rejected are also far from innovative. Even the combination of the two isn't anything all that special. And these are the basic themes of "Tatiana's Wedding". But before you start yawning and turn away to see what else there is to read, I'd ask you to give this one a second look. The reason for this is primarily because of the unique quality that Robinson brings to this tale. Robinson wraps her readers into the lives of these people in silky folds and layers. Her writing style is smooth and gentle as she observes and allows us to watch how these people have fallen into such harsh and darkened places in their lives. It is precisely the contrast of how she uses language to the stark and rough realities of her character's lives is something that many authors strive for but few accomplish. For this alone, Robinson's debut novel is worth a look.
Of course, style without content would be useless. Robinson gives us a plot that moves at a pace which emphasizes the softness of her prose. She never gives away too much, while at the same time she builds her characters very carefully. This is done with quite a bit of flashbacks, but with a precision that will surprise you in how nicely they all come together. She also gives us a peek into the Polish-American community that we've probably never seen before. All of this is done in a mere 144 pages, which comes to an end at just the right point in the story, and almost immediately after the climax. Some people might feel that this finishes too quickly. I prefer a book that gives me a snapshot I can think about afterwards, to one that ties everything up too neatly at the end.
The other thing that impressed me here was how Robinson used parallels in this book. On the one hand we have Nani - the dying and stalwart grandmother whose unrequited passion for her husband has worn away into bitterness. On the other hand we have Delfina, a girl as singular as her own name who cannot come to grips with her mother being taken away from her at so young an age. Because of that loss, and the subsequent coldness from her grandmother, she seems incapable of letter herself be consoled. For her it is as if passion is something unobtainable. More significantly, while Nani's life of being stuck with such disappointment is finally ending, we witness Delfina's growing understanding of the past, which could lead to her to learn how to stop being a disappointment to both her and others.
With this type of praise I have to add that the work isn't perfect. There were times early on in the book that I felt confused regarding the characters, and got them mixed up on more than one occasion. One of the reasons for this is because two of the characters had the same name - Stephan the brother of Delfina, and Stephan their grandfather. But as I continued reading, all of the characters straightened themselves out, and by about half way through the book, this was no longer a problem. I was also a bit perplexed by a few of the timelines, where some things seemed to happen slightly out of sync with reality. While these didn't get resolved, at a certain point, they seemed far less important to the story and I was able to ignore them.
All told, this is a remarkably beautiful debut novel that takes complex and uncomfortable situations and puts them into a prose that warms and entices. Robinson brings us into the world of people who are absolutely ordinary, but have qualities and experiences that bubble just below the surface, and make them ultimately fascinating. For all this, I'm giving "Tatiana's Wedding" by Cynthia A. Robinson a rating of four and a half stars out of five.