September 27, 2017
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Chantel Acevedo's novel The Living Infinite is a masterfully told work of historical fiction.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"A wonderfully compact saga . . . Fresh, fast-moving historical fiction from a master storyteller"
The initial seed of inspiration for The Living Infinite was sown at a dinner party. The host told the story of the Infanta Eulalia, the late 19th century Bourbon princess, who visited Cuba at the height of the country's War of Independence. In the story, Eulalia's ship docks in Havana's harbor. She steps onto the deck, and gasp! She's wearing red, white, and blue, the colors of the rebel flag.
It's a great story, and one that is only partly true. Her dress was blue and white (perhaps she had a red hankie, who knows?). But the Cubans in Havana fell in love with her, this young, beautiful and audacious princess who had secretly met with Cuban rebels in Madrid and was pro-independence. As the kids say, the crown sent the wrong one to Cuba.
As a Cuban-American, I was surprised that I had never heard of this Eulalia. I left that dinner and spent the next year researching the Spanish infanta who would become the center of my attention.
While these weren't songs I listened to while writing, they certainly remind me of Eulalia Bourbon, Infanta of Spain, early feminist, and bold as brass.
Eulalia, like her mother and grandmother before her, was stuck in an arranged and loveless marriage. To make matters worse, Eulalia's husband, the Infante Antonio, her first cousin, had a very public affair with an actress. He gave his mistress jewels and land, and people began to call her "La Infantona," which must have felt to Eulalia as if they were all rubbing it in her face. Which brings me to Beyoncé. Had Eulalia had a bat, she might have taken out Antonio's car windows, too. "Hold Up" is the perfect song for Eulalia and Antonio's relationship.
Future Love—Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga never recorded this song in a studio, but there's a lovely live version that I'm obsessed with. In it, Gaga sings about her "future boy," a man who makes her "mascara run in constellations." Eulalia likely had lovers of her own, but in The Living Infinite, I've imagined one for her—her milk brother, Tomás Aragón. Tomás is bookseller who is obsessed with Jules Verne and the possibilities of the future. His outlook helps Eulalia see that there are possibilities for her that she might not have imagined.
This is my favorite Gloria Estefan song. And yes, as a Miamian and a Cuban-American, having a favorite Gloria song is part of the package. It's a song at turns melancholy, then hopeful, about lovers separated from one another. "Tengo marcado en el pecho todos los dias que el tiempo no me dejó estar aquí" she sings, blaming time for the long separation. The song reminds me of so many Cuban exiles, who miss their home but do not return, for many reasons. It reminds me of families ripped in two, of lovers separated by the wake of history. It could be Eulalia's story, and Tomas', too.
Just a Girl—No Doubt
This selection is further proof that I was in college in the 90's. I blasted this song while driving my Ford Escort to campus and back every day. This is Gwen Stefani in her pre-Blake Shelton days, when she wore white tanks and chain belts, and sarcastically sang about being a girl, "all pretty and petite, so don't let me have any rights." Gwen had her lyrics, Eulalia had her own writing. In The Thread of Life, Eulalia's first book, she writes about divorce and feminism, women in the workplace, and freedom of the press. For that, she was exiled from Spain by her nephew, the king. The Living Infinite imagines a book that is a precursor to Thread, picturing what she would have been bold enough to say at the cusp of her thirtieth birthday.
As with most Tori Amos songs, deciphering the meaning of the lyrics here is like trying to count stars. But "Talula" has references to Anne Boleyn and the line "Say goodbye my baby to the Old World," which fits just right here. In the novel, Eulalia and Tomás make their way to the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. There they see all the wonders that the 20th century will hold. In ways both explicit and metaphoric, they say goodbye to the Old World of Europe, and hello to the new.
Mignon Overture—Ambroise Thomas
This is the only song that's actually in the novel. In Havana, Tomás and Eulalia long to dance at a gathering in the princess' honor, but decorum keeps them from it. The song is from the comedic opera, Mignon, written in 1866. Later, a danzón comes on, which leads me to my last song…
Como Fue—Beny Moré
This is one of my favorite songs, and Beny Moré, the maestro of Cuban danzón, hits his pinnacle with "Como fue." It is a song full of longing, Moré's voice quivering with emotion throughout. He describes his love like a light that illuminates all of his being. This was the kind of love that the historical Eulalia, as well as all the women in her family, were denied.
Chantel Acevedo and The Living Infinite 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)
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