VFA Recommended Books


Himilce Novas
Princess Papaya

The Power of Papaya:
New Novel Swirls Magic and Mystery
Pages: 240 Price: $14.95

“I love Himilce’s characters and her understanding of the Latino soul in all its guises, traditions, and classes. Her writing is universal and timeless. Princess Papaya is beautifully rendered, chilling, touching and haunting.” —Isabel Allende

Roberto Lobo receives anonymous calls in the night. Voices whisper threats in his ear. His fear drives him to seek the help of Ideliza Mercado, Princess Papaya and Priestess of the Barrio. Roberto hopes Princess Papaya’s powerful knowledge of santería will end his torment. Hiding in the shadows is Ideliza and Roberto’s deaf-mute son, Bembé. Across the city, Victoria Lobo, a Jewish, Cuban-American poet, mourns the death of her husband, Francisco, until a chance meeting with Bembé brings her closer to her brother and the disappearance that has plagued her family for twenty years. 

Taking us from the 9/11 tragedy in New York City to the political dungeons in Cuba to the vineyards of Santa Barbara, Novas weaves santería, gender, transgender, sexuality politics, and the resistance movement in contemporary Cuba. 

Born into a family of prominent intellectuals, 
HIMILCE NOVAS grew up in New York City. Novas is the author of several works, among themMangos, Bananas, and Coconuts: A Cuban Love Story (Arte Público Press, 1996; Putnam Riverhead 1997) and Everything You Need to Know about Latino History (Plume/Penguin, 1994; 1997; 2003). She teaches writing and literature at colleges and universities throughout the country, including Wellesley College; the University of California, Santa Barbara; Clark University; and Tulane University.


Himilce Novas is one of America's foremost feminist authorities on the increasingly powerful Latino population in the U.S. Active in New York NOW in the late "60s and early '70's, she is a writer, historian, an expert on Latino culture and founder of Latino Pride Enterprises. She reaches the huge and ever-growing Latino population and addresses their concerns and aspirations eloquently by celebrating their strength, energy and contributions to America and awakening their burgeoning feminist consciousness. Her animated discussions range from topics like machismo to multi-ethnic traditions and the changing role of women in Latino society. 

For the past fifteen years she has lectured on her own works as well as on Latino and literature, multicultural studies, Asian-American history, women's history from an International perspective, history and success of the Feminist Movement and Gay, Lesbian and Transgender civil rights issues.

Review of latest book by VFA member Himilce Novas..

Family plot 
An unfolding mystery changes the lives of three siblings in lyrical 

'Princess Papaya'
Roxana Popescu
October 3, 2004 Sometimes a novel is so delicious that it reads like a cookbook graced with a plot and characters. M.F.K. Fisher details seductively simple dishes from her visits to France, and Laura Esquivel assembles mouth-watering Mexican meals for her readers. If only they had access to a magical-realist kitchen. Princess Papaya 
Himilce Novas Arte Publico Press, 240 pages, $12.95 

On par with this tradition of literary gourmandise is "Princess Papaya," a novel by Cuban-American novelist and cookbook author Himilce Novas. Though not about food in any proper sense, it relates a mystery where grief, belief, betrayal, cultural and gender identity, and the redemptive power of forgiveness, are all seeped in the salves and spices of Jewish and Cuban cuisines. Novas' recipe goes something like this: Take one scheming obstetrician and mix with a Cuban curandera, or healer, with pendulous papaya breasts, to get a deaf-mute boy with milk-chocolate skin. In a separate bowl, mix a vanilla-sweet widower and an olive-skinned Sept. 11 widow who met on the Internet, to get a pungent romance. Finally, add a bitter missing brother or two and a dash of revenge. Serve cold. This is the story of three Lobo siblings, Jewish-Cuban exiles born in New York whose lives are disturbed by a series of disappearances and discoveries. 

Contact: Marina Tristan



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