Cristina García, the much-lauded author of Dreaming in Cuban, has been most frequently compared to Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. There are hints of both authors in her latest novel, but The Lady Matador’s Hotel gives a more substantial nod to Bel Canto than anything else. Like Ann Patchett’s modern masterpiece, The Lady Matador’s Hotel watches a diverse group of international figures interact in the wake of political turmoil.
The setting this time is Central America, and the heroine is not an opera singer but, most unusually, a female matador in town for a much-hyped fight. Suki Palacios—a half-Mexican, half-Japanese Californian who abandoned her medical studies to follow in the footsteps of her bullfighting grandfather—is the compelling focal point around whom García builds an intriguing cast of characters, all of whom are either staying at, employed by or relevant to the hotel where Suki is a guest. A Korean businessman contemplates suicide in the honeymoon suite where he is staying with his pregnant mistress; a troubled American couple tries to bond with their newly adopted daughter; a German lawyer with a complicated agenda facilitates the adoption; and an arrogant army colonel tries to pursue Suki while a waitress, formerly a guerrilla, plots her revenge against him. Tension at the hotel escalates in the wake of Suki’s fight as the characters become more and more entwined, showcasing the global reaches of conflict in this unnamed but very real place.
While García’s novel lacks the absolute urgency of Patchett’s, she writes with the same clear, lyrical prose that has earned her earlier novels so much praise. With a particular flair for detail, she creates distinct characters with endearing quirks that make this imaginative novel come vividly to life.