Anna in the Tropics

by Nilo Cruz

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1739

Anna’s Husband
Anna’s husband, whose name is Karenin, is a man of wealth, influence, and good social standing who is at first naïve about the true nature of his wife’s relationship with Vronsky. When he finally realizes that his wife is having an affair, he struggles with how he should comport himself, for he wishes to avoid a scandal at all costs. He decides to write Anna a letter.

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Boy from New London
The boy from New London is the only person from New England whom Conchita has met. According to her, he was so shy that ‘‘when he expressed any sort of feeling, he would excuse himself.’’ One year, on the second day of February, she gave him a braid of her hair to bury under a tree, as is the custom performed on the feast of Saint Candelaria. However, the boy was too embarrassed to dig a hole in the park where everyone could see, so Conchita took her braid back from him, dug a hole to shame him, and buried the braid herself. The boy from New London never spoke to her again.

Carmela is the palm reader who tells Marela that Juan Julian, a professional lector from Cuba, will come to their factory to read for them if she sweetens his name with sugar water.

Cheché is Santiago’s half brother from ‘‘up North’’ who claims partial ownership in the factory as the result of winning a wager. Ever since Cheché’s wife Mildred left him for a lector, he has expressed nothing but disdain for the love stories the lector reads because he believes that these tales of romance influenced his wife’s decision. Despite strong opposition from his family and the rest of the factory workers, Cheché wants to modernize the cigar factory’s operations with machinery that will perform production tasks more efficiently.

See Cheché

Conchita is Ofelia and Santiago’s oldest daughter. She, like her sister Marela and husband Palomo, rolls cigars at the factory. Conchita has an affair with Juan Julian shortly after he arrives; however, she makes no effort to hide the affair from her husband. Conchita takes delight in telling her husband details of her love affair because she believes that Palomo still has a mistress. Conchita defends the need for a lector at the factory because, in her opinion, money can’t buy the places and things that occupy her dreams. Furthermore, she understands that ‘‘anybody who dedicates his life to reading books believes in rescuing things from oblivion’’; that is to say, without a lector, the factory would be a lifeless place to work. For her, literature offers a way of learning about the world.

Eliades is a gamester who takes wagers on the local cockfights he runs.

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Juan Julian
Juan Julian, ‘‘the best lector west of Havana,’’ arrives at the cigar factory at Ofelia’s behest. Known to Ofelia and her daughters as the ‘‘Persian Canary’’ because ‘‘it’s like hearing a bird sing when he reads,’’ Juan Julian is a man who believes in the restorative power of nature. He warns of how machines are destroying the stillness and quiet that people need to contemplate their lives to such an extent that machines, and the so-called ‘‘modernity’’ they introduce, are destroying ‘‘[t]he very act of smoking a cigar.’’ As a lector, Juan Julian sees himself as a descendent of the cacique, a Taino Indian chief, who translated the ‘‘sacred words of the deities.’’ He is a man who believes in the eternal verities. For this reason he chooses to read Anna Karenina because ‘‘Tolstoy understands humanity like no other writer does.’’ Juan Julian becomes involved in an adulterous affair with Conchita even though he knows that Palomo is aware of his wife’s infidelity.

Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina is the eponymous heroine of a novel by Leo Tolstoy. She forms one of two love triangles in the novel, for she is married to Karenin but has an affair with Vronsky.

Kitty forms part of the second love triangle in Anna Karenina. She is the object of Levin’s desire.

Levin is a character in Anna Karenina who owns a farm in the countryside. He is Santiago’s favorite character because Levin is a ‘‘dedicated man’’ who reminds Santiago of himself when he was young and took over control of the cigar factory from his father. Levin is a wise and judicious man who makes sound business decisions. He is in love with Kitty.

Manola does the stuffing at the cigar factory. A true romantic, she keeps a picture of Rudolph Valentino on her work table. Ironically, she is exactly the type of person whom Juan Julian refers to when he says that people are switching from cigars to cigarettes to emulate the stars they see on screen. Manola takes such delight in hearing romantic tales that sometimes she becomes ‘‘a sea of tears’’ when listening to them.

Marela is Ofelia and Santiago’s youngest daughter. She casts a spell to bring the lector to the factory, but then wets herself when she discovers that the spell has worked all too well. Like the other women in her family, she believes that Juan Julian should continue reading at the factory because ‘‘the words he reads are like a breeze that breaks the monotony of [the] factory.’’ Marela is so entranced by the story of Anna Karenina and her lover Vronsky that she begins to dream of snow. When her father announces the production of a new cigar inspired by the pages of Anna Karenina, Marela models for the label that bears the Russian heroine’s name. She is the victim of Cheché’s violent advances, though Cruz doesn’t mention rape specifically. Dazed from the attack, Marela is further devastated when she learns of Juan Julian’s death. She appears for work three days after Juan Julian’s death wearing a heavy fur coat, as if to perpetuate the dream of Russia, snow, and romance.

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Peppino Mellini
Peppino Mellini is the ‘‘best buncher’’ at the cigar factory. According to Ofelia, he has a ‘‘soft spot for love stories.’’ A native of Napoli, Italy, Peppino sings Neapolitan songs at the end of the workday.

A ‘‘southern belle from Atlanta,’’ Mildred is Cheché’s wife who ran away with the cigar factory’s previous lector.

Ofelia is Santiago’s wife and Marela and Conchita’s mother. She plays Kitty to Santiago’s Levin, telling him, ‘‘If you had lost me, I wouldn’t be here. If you had lost me, I wouldn’t be by your side.’’ Ofelia is responsible for bringing Juan Julian to Ybor City from Cuba, having paid for his fare with money she took from her husband. She believes that having a lector at the factory is an absolute necessity and thus strongly opposes Cheché’s efforts to modernize the factory. Because Ofelia once had the opportunity to model for a cigar label but had to settle for a marmalade label instead to avoid causing a scandal for her mother, Ofelia consents to Marela posing for the new Anna Karenina label.

Palomo, a cigar roller, is Conchita’s husband. His sexual orientation remains ambiguous, yet he seems possessive of Conchita whenever they are among other workers, especially Juan Julian. Palomo sides with Cheché when he tries to have the lector fired even though he, Palomo, enjoys the story of Anna Karenina. Palomo is angry when he discovers his wife’s affair with the lector, but, rather than insist that she end it, he asks her probing questions about her lover, living vicariously through his wife’s sexual exploits.

Persian Canary
See Juan Julian

Previous Lector
The previous lector succeeded Teodoro as lector upon the latter’s death. He is from Guanabacoa, Cuba, and is described as having skin ‘‘the color of saffron.’’ He seduces Cheché’s wife Mildred with love stories and runs away with her.

Rosario is a woman who put a spell on her lover, who died as a result. ‘‘And not only did she lose her man,’’ warns Conchita, ‘‘she’s gone to hell herself.’’ She cried so much after her lover’s death that her face became ‘‘an ocean of tears.’’ Rosario was so distraught that her father had to take her back to Cuba. At night a fever would overtake her, and she would run to the sea naked to meet her dead lover. Conchita tells the story of Rosario’s spell to warn Marela from practicing witchcraft.

Cookie Salazar
Cookie Salazar is the friend who lends Marela a fur coat which she wears in imitation of Anna Karenina.

Santiago is the owner of the cigar factory and the half brother of Cheché, to whom he owes a large debt. The debt causes Santiago so much shame that he refuses to return to the factory until the debt is paid. His marriage to Ofelia remains playful and loving despite the couple’s frequent squabbles about money. Though Santiago has been secluded in the family home, he can see the positive effect the lector’s reading has had on the workers. Therefore, he demands that Cheché return the machinery he wants to introduce. Inspired by Juan Julian’s reading of Anna Karenina, Santiago launches a new line of cigars at the factory.

Teodoro was the factory’s lector until he died three months ago at age eighty. Marela complains that Teodoro would spit when he read, as though ‘‘sprinkles of rain were coming out of his mouth.’’ In Marela’s opinion, Teodoro didn’t have the emotional fortitude to be a lector, for he ‘‘couldn’t take the love stories . . . the poetry and tragedy in the novels.’’ Often he would have to sit down and collect himself after reading a profoundly moving passage. Furthermore, Marela says that he took too long to finish reading Wuthering Heights. This, says Conchita, is because he read to them ‘‘with his heart.’’

Pascual Torino
Pascual Torino wears a handkerchief around his neck as he wraps cigars at the factory. He is a native of Spain, which once colonized and governed Cuba. According to Ofelia, Pascual is ‘‘A nostalgic at heart . . . [who] wants to go back to his country and die in Grenada.’’

Vronsky is the dashing officer with whom Anna Karenina has an affair.

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