Elevate Difference

One Hundred Bottles

An intensely vivid and riveting story of abuse, pain, honesty, erotica and discovery-this combination of words may not sound appealing, but the provocative and imaginative novel of these topics woven together creates a graphic fall from the literary world into our laps of reading desire. Crafted by Ena Lucía Portela, One Hundred Bottles is the story of a young woman named Z, who is incidentally an amazing storyteller (as well as a reluctantly educated person) and who leads us through her story while trying to find meaning behind her experiences. Given her challenging background, Z delivers a step by step account of her life (with creative backstory included) and you hope she will end up a champion. Z faces what seems the most challenging of all living through an unlucky survivorship; however, she keeps moving along through life, and author Portela puts you, the reader, right next to her. You feel the slaps, you feel the insults, and you breathe a sigh of relief with her at the climax.

Educated at the University of Havana, Ena Lucía Portela brings her life to fiction and brilliantly sets her story in the historic rocky era of Cuba in the early 1990s. All characters seek a chosen lifestyle and all are survivors; depending on their current resources, people enter and spin through Z's life while their own tales turn-and none are left unexplained.

Although she is called "stupid", Z is curious and insistent. Her friends and support range from her priest to a lesbian mystery author. At certain points in reading One Hundred Bottles, you feel like you are reading strictly a whodunit sort of detective novel, but actually the author (and best friend of Z) writes the detective novel based on Z's retelling of actual real events in her section of the world. Brilliantly juxtaposed, the work keeps you engrossed; at times powerfully violent, the novel reminds you that this is what a certain group in a certain culture experienced during this time; if a reader is intimate with abuse or violence, he or she may identify with these parts, but redemption triumphs and allows readers to breathe deeply a sigh of relief.

Published originally in Spanish in 2002, this novel holds up. Reminiscent of Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Brando Skyhorse's The Madonnas of Echo Park, One Hundred Bottles brings the reader a culture delightfully retold through the eyes of a woman who remarkably survives. As well, the story offers hope and fulfillment, both necessary traits for living in today's world.

Written by: Carolyn Espe, February 18th 2011

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