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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Apartment

Narrated by Whitney Dykhouse

ISBN: 9781696612654

Publisher: Highbridge Audio

Publication Date: 06/27/2023

Format: Audio

My Rating: 4 Stars (ARC)

From the critically acclaimed author of In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd comes a new novel about the search for freedom and the power of community that spans decades of residents in one Florida apartment

The Helena is an art deco apartment building that has witnessed the changing face of South Miami Beach for seventy years, observing the lives housed within. Among those who have called apartment 2B home are a Cuban concert pianist who performs in a nursing home; the widow of an intelligence officer raising her young daughter alone; a man waiting on a green card marriage to run its course so that he can divorce his wife and marry his lover, all of whom live together; a Tajik building manager with a secret identity; and a troubled young refugee named Lenin. Each tenant imbues 2B with energy that will either heal or overwhelm its latest resident, Lana, a mysterious woman struggling with her own past.

Examining exile, homesickness, and displacement, The Apartment asks what—in our violent and lonely century—do we owe one another? If alone we are powerless before sorrow and isolation, it is through community and the sharing of our stories that we may survive and persevere.

My Review

Ana Menéndez's latest novel, THE APARTMENT, takes us to Miami's South Beach, Florida, to The Helena, the historic Art Deco apartment building rich in history, time, and character where we meet the many residents of Apartment 2B who have come and gone over seven decades.

Built in 1942, many people and families have come to Miami's South Beach to the Helena Apartment and called 2B home.

First, we meet a military couple from Texas: Sophie and Jack Appleton. The new bride is enamored with this glamorous town, but he's preoccupied with the war and abusive.

In 1963, an aging Cuban concert pianist Eugenio Francisco Montes Behar grieved for a lost love and finds the man's spirit in music. He plays for a nursing home and at weddings, living here for 11 years. Eugenio contemplates his love of music after he hears about the death of a great Cuban composer.

In 1972, Sandman, a refugee in his own country, a divorced Vietnam vet with PTSD who's badly undone by an anti-war march, then saved by hatchling sea turtles. He deals with termite-eaten furniture left from previous tenants.

In 1982, Isabel, an 18 yr old Marielita disappointed in South Beach and its decay but dazzled by the older painter first as muse, then as a lover.

In 2002, married couple Maribel Rodriguez and Ignacio Salas resided there with his girlfriend, Beatrice Dumonts—a complicated threesome created not by love or desire but by immigration law.

In 2010, a 40 yr. old Pilar, a Cuban American journalist, prepares to leave 2B apartment (now a condo) after she lost her job faced with the reality of moving back in with her parents.

Pilar rents her condo to a young man named Lenin García, another Cuban refugee, who soon dies. His fate impacts other tenants in surprising ways.

From the Cuban concert pianist, the widow of an intelligence officer raising their young daughter alone; a man waiting on a green card marriage to run its course so that he can divorce his wife and marry his lover. A Tajik building manager with a secret identity; a Vietnam vet receiving packages from his ex-wife. Each has a story and the walls of Apartment 2B are a part of their lives.

Do the walls talk? Told in short chapters with stories of each tenant.

Each tenant has past losses, challenges, struggles, dreams, and hopes for the future. For over seventy years, it has stood tall and held the resident's secrets.

The latter part set in 2012, we learn of Lana, an immigrant, a mysterious woman struggling with her own demons, who mourns her beloved while unaware of the apartment's tragic history.

Distraught and alone, she is watched over by a ghost, and together these two strangers brought into the community by The Helena will find a measure of comfort and purpose, gaining new insight into what we all owe one another.

Beautifully written and lyrical! I loved the South Beach Art Deco apartment and have lived in South Florida for 20-some years. I had an office in Miami for years and spent much time in South Beach as a consultant working with Art Deco historical properties and hotels as well as Palm Beach area. I was delighted to see this book.

The characters were well drawn, and the setting was a character among itself with thoughtful meditation. A mix of historical, literary fiction, magical realism, and a little mystery.

AUDIOBOOK While the author is, of course, very talented, and I listened to the audiobook narrated by Whitney Dykhouse delivering an outstanding performance—I did feel it started out very intriguing and strong. Still, mid-way to the end, it became slow and confusing. The last section was drawn out and strange. It may have been better to have a print or digital reading copy to follow in those areas.

Overall, I enjoyed reading about the residents and history and revisiting one of my favorite spots full of history and charm.

Thanks to HighBridge Audio for a gifted ALC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: June 27, 2023

My Rating: 4 Stars


Elle A Best New Book of the Summer

"Throughout the story of a single Miami apartment, readers learn that the places in which we dwell are as much a part of us as those we love. The Apartment's self-contained vignettes—with key overlaps in time—narrate the lives of veterans, housewives, immigrants, ghosts, and precious children."

—The Boston Globe

"With themes of exile, displacement, and homesickness, this novel shows the power of community and sharing stories to get through the toughest times."

—Zibby Owens, Katie Couric Media

"Menedez finds a perfect setting for her ambitious crossroads-of-humanity story: an apartment building in South Miami Beach, an old deco structure from a seemingly bygone era, hanging on and packed full of human striving, conflict, and desperation . . . [T]he novel really finds itself in the rich, textured, sometimes intersecting stories of all those people who have put themselves into close quarters and found, not exactly a community, but a shared ground for longing and remembrance."

—Dwyer Murphy, Literary Hub

"One apartment on Miami Beach becomes a microcosm of seven decades of ordinary, extraordinary lives . . . Vividly drawn characters and finely crafted prose enhance these interwoven tales. In Apartment 2B, the walls do talk, and their tales reveal their tenants’ minds and hearts."

—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Haunting . . . The novel explores many facets of loneliness and isolation and the feeling of being othered and far from home, and it illustrates the often life-saving importance of community."

—Booklist (starred review)

"Menéndez’s nesting-doll narrative serves as a thoughtful meditation on the transient nature of home."

—Publishers Weekly

"Ana Menéndez gives us an intimate, picturesque tale that grows into a mysterious and supernatural journey through time as the conflicted narrators become ghosts and echoes of each other. Striking and haunting, this powerful novel battles between gut-wrenchingly lonely and harrowing moments in America, and the multifaceted, resilient, and radically caring community that has blossomed against them. It’s a reminder that we breathe new air everyday, that we are always connected to each other, that we survive when we stick together."

—Xochitl Gonzalez, author of Olga Dies Dreaming

"Menéndez writes from the gut, expertly crafting the tensions and bitterness of misplacement, the suffocation of place. She also writes from the spleen; Menéndez's acerbic wit finds its way interstitially through the pages of this book, finding another gear for an already beautiful prose. The array of characters, all of whom have jumped out of a frying pan and into a fire, and specifically, into apartment 2B of the Helena, are escaping a past that won't let them be. They're immigrants and refugees whose hopelessness at times obfuscates their political realities: here isn't always better than there. At the center of this book, Menéndez has constructed a home, a building, a city; she's also drawn a line—possibly a circle—that stretches from imperialism to mental health."

—Alejandro Varela, author of The People Who Report More Stress

"Ingenious in its construction, intimate in its storytelling, and illuminating in its insights, The Apartment is both an unforgettable reading experience and a fascinating character in itself: like the mysterious stranger next door whose history, hopes, longings, secrets, and surprises thrillingly reveal themselves over time."

—Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men

"Ana Menéndez should be donned the poet laureate of South Beach, but not the South Beach of Versace mansions and trendy nightclubs but a more human place where wanderers seek the kind of quotidian security that often proves so elusive for us all. The Apartment is a jewel of a novel that dares questions the very notion of what we consider home—a stunning meditation on the ghosts we leave behind and the phantoms that are perennially our companions in exile"

—Ernesto Mestre-Reed, author of Sacrificio

"Stunning in its intimate yet vast portrayal of humanity, The Apartment tenderly summons the power of our bonds to place and community, evoking the grace of human connections that save us time and time again. A balm for our deeply divided times."

—Richard Blanco, Presidential Inaugural Poet, author of The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood

"An exquisite palimpsest of culture, memory, and place, Ana Menendez’s The Apartment is The Canterbury Tales of Miami Beach. A series of vivid, original characters move in and out of apartment 2B, each of them inscribing it with their indelible stories. Rendered in elegant, masterful prose, this novel will enthrall readers and haunt them long after the last page."

—Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Fencing with the King

"A dazzling inquiry into the disquietudes of time and place, of past and present, and the global exiles who inhabit the realms in-between. Menéndez's exquisitely-wrought stories—emanating from the lifespan of one modest Miami apartment—offer us no less than the world. A masterful, poetic achievement."

—Cristina García, author of Dreaming in Cuban

About the Author

ANA MENÉNDEZ has published four books of fiction: Adios, Happy Homeland!; The Last War; Loving Che; and In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd. She has worked as a journalist in the United States and abroad, most recently as a prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald. As a reporter, she wrote about Cuba, Haiti, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and India. Her work has appeared in Vogue, BOMB, The New York Times, and Tin House and has been included in several anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. She has a BA in English from Florida International University and an MFA from New York University. From 2008 to 2009, she lived in Cairo as a Fulbright Scholar. She has also lived in India, Turkey, Slovakia, and the Netherlands, where she designed a creative writing minor at Maastricht University in 2011. She is currently an associate professor at Florida International University with joint appointments in English and the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab. WEBSITE



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