Rebel Arouser

In her debut novel Loving Che, journalist-turned-fiction writer Ana Menéndez pieces together a woman's love affair with Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

The story opens in contemporary Miami and centers on a young, unnamed Cuban woman who knows little of her family's history prior to her grandfather fleeing turbulent 1960s Havana with her in tow. When she receives a mysterious parcel of letters and photographs, she imaginatively reconstructs the life of her mother, an artist from a wealthy background who shared a passionate affair with Che, the vibrant and enigmatic rebel. Returning to Havana in hopes of discovering more, the daughter comes to see the country's myths and her own story as one.

Menéndez reads from and signs Loving Che at 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23, at Inkwood Books.

The promotional tour stop also affords Menéndez a convenient visit with her uncle, the poet Dionisio Martinez, who lives in St. Petersburg.

Born in the United States, Menéndez grew up immersed in the work of Cuban nationalist poet José Marti, as her expatriate family anticipated someday moving back to Cuba. Martinez, whose collections are published by Penguin, introduced his niece to a wide variety of American and Cuban poets at an early age. And it is poetry Menéndez credits with teaching her to write prose.

Before graduating from the creative writing program at NYU, Menéndez worked for six years as a journalist, first at The Miami Herald, covering the neighborhood of Little Havana, and most recently for The Orange County Register in California.

In 2001, her short story collection In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd impressed literary critics with its interwoven tales of idiosyncratic characters who share common history, loss and humor in modern-day Miami. The title story received the Pushcart Prize and The New York Times selected the collection for its year-end list of notable books.

Released this month in hardcover by Grove Atlantic Press, Loving Che has already been warmly praised by Vanity Fair, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. Critics uniformly excuse its sweaty eroticism and ripe prose for its innovation in combining memory, history and fantasy to glimpse at the private life of a beloved public figure.

If you've not been to a reading at Inkwood Books, take this opportunity to attend one and meet an author who is making good on her great promise.

Inkwood Books is located at 216 S. Armenia Ave., Tampa (813-253-2638).

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