The relationship between mothers and daughters is a richly mined topic in fiction. In her beautifully written debut, Gabriela Garcia presents a new classic of mother-daughter literature.
Of Women and Salt tells the intertwined stories of women in two families from the 19th century to the present day. After an unstable childhood during the Cuban revolution, Carmen leaves her mother behind and immigrates to Florida. Later, in a wealthy suburb, Carmen tries to provide her daughter, Jeanette, with a comfortable American life. Jeanette has a drug addiction, is hiding a tragic secret and is desperately seeking a purpose.
Their lives intersect with that of Gloria, an immigrant from El Salvador who hopes to give her young daughter, Ana, a better life in Miami. Then Gloria is seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Ana must reunite with her mother at a detention center in Texas. They are deported to Mexico with no resources and forced to start over on their own.
Some novels attempt to tell a sweeping narrative only to get bogged down by a busy plot and too many characters, but despite a large cast from numerous time periods, Of Women and Salt expertly threads each woman’s story to another’s and pulls their stories taut. Disparate hardships propel each of their lives, but they are linked by a shared struggle to carry on in a harsh world, whether each survives her circumstance—or not.
Motherhood is “a constant calculation of what-if,” Garcia writes. At the heart of Of Women and Salt are the sacrifices made by mothers so their daughters can have different lives—perhaps better ones. But daughters may make choices based on their own wishes and needs, and this possibility is ever poised to pierce a mother’s heart. In this way, the novel is quietly heartbreaking. As Garcia writes, “Even the best mothers in the world can’t always save their daughters.”