It was with favorable expectations that Silent Wing was received in 1998. Coming into the market just two years after The Secret of the Bulls, a novel set in pre-Revolutionary Cuba, which won positive attention from the Los Angeles Times as one of the best works of first fiction for 1996, could not hurt. Although critics had mixed feeling concerning Silent Wing, readers have offered favorable remarks. The most frequent comment concerns their appreciation of Bernardo's writing about Cuba's famous poet patriot, Jose Julian Marti. One reader stated that the book "brought much reflection and analysis of internal conflicts." Another reader remarked that he preferred his history "embedded in a good story." Further comments focus on the relevance of Marti's thoughts and deeds to today's turbulent political situations. Wherever there is inequality there is need for individuals with integrity. Bernardo's novel suggested that many leaders pause to contemplate before taking action. Readers seem to appreciate a protagonist who has many unanswered questions concerning life and making the right decisions.
Jose Bernardo's Silent Wing portrays the life and loves of Cuban poet and revolutionary hero Jose Julian Marti. The novel begins in Guatemala City, Guatemala, in the year 1877 and concludes twenty-two years later in Dos Rios, at the east end of Cuba in the year 1895. This is the story of a man compelled to speak, write, and take action on behalf of freedom, even if that means sacrificing his own true love and life in the process.
The narrative begins with Sol, ‘‘a beautiful young woman with dreamy dark eyes and long golden hair.’’ She is seventeen, of marrying age, uninterested in any of the young men she has met. She converses with her nursemaid Xenufla, a Mayan Cakchiquel Indian woman. Xenufla intimates that ‘‘men can be a lot of fun.’’ Sol is embarrassed but listens closely to her advice. Following Xenufla's instructions carefully, she visits a church in Jocotenango and speaks to the statue of Santa Rita.
Sol records in her diary the details of the saint's advice:
Then, all of a sudden, I felt a tremor under my feet. I thought we were going through an earthquake, so I looked around me. But not a thing was moving, and yet I was shaking badly. I got so scared. I did not know what to do. It was then I looked up at the Saint again and noticed that her eyes were changing form and color, little by little becoming dark blue instead of brown until they became the dark blue eyes of a handsome man with dark, thick eyebrows.
Sol returns home and describes to Xenufla what has happened. Xenufla is happy for the "wondrous sign.’’ She is convinced that the man has been chosen by the gods ‘‘to always be by her nina's side" and that he is "on his way to her. Now all there was to do was to wait for him.’’
Julian is a young man of 26 traveling on board a small steamship named El Futuro heading for Guatemala. Exiled from his homeland of Cuba for nearly nine years, he has constantly moved with ‘‘no country’’ and ‘‘no job.’’ He wonders when he will be able to return to his homeland.
Ten years before, he had lived in Mexico City with a job writing political essays for La Revista Universal. After a coup d' tat, he was encouraged to leave and travel to Guatemala. Senor Fermin has written a letter to Professor Saavedra, the principal of the Escuela Central in Guatemala City on Julian's behalf. He has given Julian money and a letter of introduction to Gualterio Rubios, the new liberal president of Guatemala. Although Julian has few possessions, his books are the most precious:
His books are his friends-the friends who talk to him. Just as his diaries are his friends-the friends who listen.
Before leaving Mexico City, Julian proposes to Lucia, the daughter of an exiled Cuban lawyer. Her acceptance surprised him, yet, ‘‘what was done was done.’’
Upon his arrival in the small Mayan village of Puerto Dulce, Julian makes his way over the mountains to Guatemala City. The journey is exhausting but Julian enjoys the nights in the jungle. He writes his diary, ‘‘I slowly fall asleep, dreaming of love.’’
Julian arrives in Guatemala City, finds an inexpensive place to stay, and makes plans to contact Professor Saavedra. Julian meets Professor Saavedra and immediately impresses him. Already Saavedra wishes to introduce Julian to Don Manuel, the general who led the Guatemalans to independence.
On his way to his room one evening, Julian...
(The entire section is 1470 words.)