Set in Puerto Rico in the 1860s, The Cries of San Sebastian is at its heart the love story of Rosalia Hernandez, the daughter of a powerful Spanish landowner, and Miguel Pitre, a young creole revolutionary from San Sebastian.
Puerto Rico is ruled by Spain and slavery still exists. Spanish landowners demand exorbitant taxes from the creoles, so much so that these poor people hardly have anything to eat or clothe themselves. Rosalia’s father, Rodolfo Hernandez, who plays an important role in the story, hates the creoles and anything remotely associated with those who are planning the insurrection. When he finds out that Rosalia is falling in love with Miguel, he does everything to keep them apart and destroy Miguel. Hernandez pretty much stops at nothing to get what he wants. Parallel to the love story is the story of the revolution and how it comes about. Spies, paid informants, secret letters and telegrams, bribery and unjust hangings are just some of the elements that contribute to this intriguing plot. This being a historical novel, I should also point out that many of the secondary characters are real and played a vital role in the revolution.
I have many good things to say about this book. It’s an ambitious effort by Ramos. Besides the fact that it clearly was thoroughly researched, the author took great care constructing the plot and incorporating in it all the historical details, not an easy feat in a story of this scope. In spite of the length, the pace moves fairly quickly and there are various twists and turns and lots of political intrigue. Late 1800s Puerto Rico comes alive with all the conflict and struggle that took place between the wealthy Spanish landowners and the rebel Creole peasants and the slaves who wanted freedom. The setting and detailed descriptions really helped in transporting me to that time and place. I had never read a novel about this insurrection and being a Puerto Rican myself, I was especially interested in this book. I have to say I found it interesting and educational.
There are a few aspects of this book that troubled me, though. There’s too much foul language that somehow doesn’t fit the story. I didn’t mind all the cursing from the villain, Rodolfo Hernandez, as that felt realistic, but the bad language coming from the well-bred Rosalia and her sisters simply didn’t ring true and stopped my suspension of disbelief many times throughout the story. The continuous bantering and fighting of Rosalia with her sisters also got to be too much at times, to the point of being annoying. The physical violence between Rodolfo and Rosalia often gets out of control and crosses the limit of what seems credible. Finally, the evil characters are too stereotypical at times. I think these characters would have benefited from deeper and more complex characterizations, such as giving them a few redeeming qualities. I should point out that Ramos did a skillful job with the characters of Miguel and especially with Miguel’s father, the old Creole peasant. In fact, Miguel’s father was my favorite character in the novel for the simple fact that he’s so real.
In sum, this novel has much to offer readers in spite of the few flaws I just mentioned. The Cries of Sebastian is a well-plotted, riveting story of love, struggle, oppression, and revolution. I highly recommend it to readers who are particularly interested in this difficult colonial era of Puerto Rican history.