The Bottom Line: This political thriller set in post-revolutionary Cuba features an unforgettable hero’s journey that is both emotionally resonant and highly suspenseful.
The Advent House opens as hospital volunteer Gabriella Suarez Paloma is assigned to assist a dying woman during her final days. The patient, a woman named Adriana, is considered both a person of interest and a “consort of an enemy of the state.” In exchange for information Gabriella might glean about Adriana or her family, Gabriella will be permitted to visit her brother, who is reportedly dying in a penal camp near Havana.
But when Adriana entrusts Gabriella with five handwritten letters to her family, Andriana can’t bear to hand them over to state security. She instead decides to keep them hidden and deliver them according to Adriana’s instructions – a decision that will no doubt put her and her brother in danger.
The Advent House takes place in a time when Fidel Castro’s communist government fears the “poison of religious faith,” especially Christianity. Believers are branded traitors and anti-government, rendering belief in God a political activity contrary to the government’s interest. Bibles and bible distribution networks are actively hunted. And within a country with a large number of closeted catholics, Gabriella comes from a family of non-believing scientists and party members. But her belief that there exists “something beyond our understanding” – as well as her general empathy and goodness toward oppressed people of faith –- makes her an especially compelling heroine.
For the unaware, an Advent house is quite literally a wooden model home that acts as a functional Advent calendar. But does the one in the novel hold more significance? While the object has sentimental and spiritual value for Christians Miguel and Tomas that seems borderline magical, they aren’t the only ones interested in possessing it. The ensuing adventure undertaken by Tomas, Gabriella, Miguel and others is a high-stakes endeavor that could mean life or death for all. Author Tim Jorgenson’s prose is sufficiently spare, and yet emotionally resonant, throughout. White-knuckle scenes involving cloak-and-dagger activities on boats within foggy Caribbean waters are not to be missed.