May 3, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Patricia Engel's novel The Veins of the Ocean is a vibrant book about loss and redemption.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"In a novel that is vitally relevant today when the word refugee has such loaded connotations, Engel delivers a pulsating . . . and deeply introspective take on how family, love, and guilt can both 'chain us together' and set us free.'"
I don't listen to music when I write but so much of the research that went into writing this novel came from simply living, putting myself in places and spaces, forging friendships that revealed pieces of what came to be the story of Reina and Nesto. I spent years traveling in Cuba and the Caribbean coast of Colombia, as well as exploring the Florida Keys and my adopted hometown of Miami. Through it all, music was a companion, and became a part of the architecture and spirit of The Veins of the Ocean.
"Colombia" by Locos Por Juana
The opening chapters of The Veins of the Ocean are set in Miami and Los Por Juana is the quintessential Miami band, playing a mix of Cumbia, funk, and reggae, and whose lyrics often paint stories of immigration and exile. "Colombia" is basically a call to action from afar, holding the nation accountable for its failures as you would do to someone you love.
"La Fantástica" by Carlos Vives
This song is a love letter to Cartagena, where Reina, the novel's narrator was born and where she returns to later in the story. Though Cartagena was already a place I knew well, I went back several times while researching the novel and learned so much more about its complicated history and African heritage, which this song celebrates.
"Habaname" by Carlos Varela
Nesto, one of the novel's main characters, is from Havana and dealing with the pain of having left his family behind. "Habaname" is a classic, speaking tenderly and courageously about the Havana that has been has been neglected and betrayed, yet which endures, beloved by its people. When I had the chance to see Carlos Varela perform live in concert, nearly all the Cubans in the audience were brought to tears by this song.
"El Colombiano Errante" by Jorge Villamizar
I, like Reina, am a child of the Colombian diaspora and this song perfectly embodies the conflicted feelings immigrants and their children have about being a face among strangers representing a country that has left them wounded in many ways, yet still defending its honor with love and loyalty.
"537 Cuba" by Orishas
This song was released in 2000, at the end of the Special Period, by young exiles who met in Paris. Hip-Hop mixed with the classic Cuban song "Chan Chan," made famous by Compay Segundo with the Buenavista Social Club, it speaks of the pain of leaving one's homeland, the beauty, the loss, the añoranza.
"Latinoamérica" by Calle 13
I conceived The Veins of the Ocean as a novel of the Americas. I have spent my entire life in the crossroads of immigration, feeling connected to multiple nations and peoples. I wanted to write a story that reflected this kinship and the struggle, pain, and hope felt through all of Latin America; a region so beautiful and so rich, yet eternally robbed of its treasures, and enduring abuse, often at its own hands. Like the song says, "Aquí se respira lucha."
"Viva Cuba Libre" by Los Aldeanos
This song spells out the hardships and resentment fueling the island's youth, challenging the broken promises of a government that controls everything including the music industry. It's a devastatingly honest song that hits at so many truths, which those in power have tried to silence.
"Blackbird" by The Beatles
Havana is full of surprises and one of them is El Submarino Amarillo (The Yellow Submarine), a Beatles tribute nightclub in the heart of Vedado, next to John Lennon park, where any night of the week you'll find bands belting out rock tunes previously banned by the Cuban government for years. This is where I heard an unforgettable rendition of "Blackbird" performed by local favorites, Miel con Limón.
"Stranger/Lover" by Ibeyi
Since I first heard this beautiful song by twin daughters of Cuban exile, born and raised in Paris, it reminded me of how Reina and Nesto take refuge in one another's company, especially with the lyric, "Stranger lover, come heal in my arms." It also happens that the Yoruba patakí of Los Ibeyis, the twins who outwitted the devil, appears in my novel.
"Este Camino Largo" by Clave y Guaguancó
I fell in love with rumba and guaguancó while writing this novel and this song is pulsing with Afro-Cuban rhythms while also offering a heart-shattering lament for the kind of love that binds people together no matter the time or distance or circumstances that may separate them. It reminds me of Reina's devotion to both her brother Carlito and then to Nesto.
"Todo Se Acabó" by Los Van Van
Juan Formell died in 2014, when the manuscript for was nearing completion. I was long a fan of Los Van Van, but after Formell's death, I would find something of a shrine to Formell in nearly every club I went to in Havana, and so many local musicians had personal anecdotes of how he'd personally touched their lives with his generosity and kindness. I saw this song performed live at a club in Cayo Hueso where old time musicians gather on Tuesdays to perform rumba in the afternoon.
"Rebelión" by Joe Arroyo
Another salsa classic from the other side of the Caribbean, by the Colombian musical icon, Joe Arroyo, who also passed away while I was working on this book. The song tells the story of a slave couple rebelling against their Spanish slave master, and I drew a lot from it in terms of how it describes courage and strength in the face of injustice.
"La Vida es Una Carnaval" by Celia Cruz
There are many dark moments in the novel, but there is always a yearning and a faith in a better day ahead. This song, a Cuban anthem of sorts by the great Celia Cruz, is a guaranteed antidote to sorrow.
"Somos Dos" by Bomba Estereo
A song in praise of unexpectedly discovering love in another person, and though it's by a Colombian band, I heard it played nonstop in both Havana and Cartagena on my research trips and it wove its way into several moments in the novel.
Patricia Engel and The Veins of the Ocean links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)