The Mortifications follows the Encarnacion family from Cuba to Connecticut and then back to Cuba again. Soledad's husband, Uxbal, is heavily involved in rebel groups resisting Castro's regime. She doesn't want her children growing up in that environment, and eventually she decides to take them and leave for America without her husband. Uxbal tries to hold her daughter Isabel captive, but she threatens to cut his son's throat if he doesn't let her take both their children. They escape successfully, but the incident leaves deep scars on everyone in the family. Soledad eventually begins a new relationship with Henri Willems, a Dutch man trying to cultivate Cuban tobacco in the US, and all the while she and her children drift further and further apart from one another as they try to adjust to their new lives.
The Mortifications is a leisurely-paced book and it draws rich portraits of all the characters: Soledad, who takes her children from Cuba to America to protect them but finds herself haunted by a lost marriage and country; Isabel, who took a vow to her father to remain chaste until she could have rebel children for his militia, and who later joins a convent in an effort to keep this vow; Ulises, a student of classical literature who feels abandoned by his mother, father, and sister alike; Willems, who is haunted by the idea that his tobacco holds the ghosts of the slaves his family once owned in Haiti; and many more minor characters who are written with equal depth and sympathy. It was a genuine pleasure to read -- beautiful writing, very introspective, and with enough humor to keep it from being too relentlessly depressing. That being said, it's a very (and I mean very) slow-paced book and is focused more on the internal lives of the characters than any cohesive plot, so that might be frustrating to readers looking for something with a little more structure. I would give it 3.5 stars, in large part because the writing was absolutely gorgeous.