I found The Lady Matador’s Hotel like an exotic drink whose ingredients sound tempting but didn’t mix together as well as imagined.
Situated in an unnamed Central American capital, the opulent Hotel Miraflor is more than the backdrop for Cuban-born writer Cristina García’s fifth novel–it is the glue that holds together the tales of some very striking and distinct characters.The title character, matadora Suki Palacios, is an American medical student born to a Mexican father and Japanese mother; she is in town for the Battle of the Lady Matadors tournament. Although she has the highest profile, other characters include the hotel restaurant’s waitress who was a guerrilla during the country’s civil war, an attorney of German descent arranging international ‘adoptions,’ a suicidal Korean textiles manufacturer housing his pregnant teenage lover in the honeymoon suite, an exiled Cuban poet staying at the hotel waiting for an adoption, and a ruthless colonel in town for a pan-American military conference.
The novel, which takes place during one week in November 2003, is more like a collage of single-character short stories, each interrupting the other. It’s hard to describe the plot, not because I want to avoid spoilers but because there is very little interaction between the characters. Each is fighting his or her own bull in a tropical capital weighed down by poverty, corruption, the aftereffects of a violent civil war and an impending hurricane.
Each chapter begins with a short synopsis and ends with a collection of media soundbites. The text seems like an elaboration of the synopsis and a lead up to social commentary. I had trouble pinpointing the cohesion in the novel, which had elements of the supernatural and scenes of sexual escape.
If you enjoy works set in Central America, lyrical language in service of social commentary, or intense character studies, this might be the story for you. However, if you are looking for a plot-driven story where all the pieces neatly fit together, don’t check into The Lady Matador’s Hotel.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Scribner. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.