Eli Cooper, a confirmed bachelor in his mid-fifties, a stick-in-the-mud type who dislikes change and disruption, has lived an unexciting, emotionally unfulfilled life. For several years he has been caring for his father—a dementia sufferer—at home, against the advice of doctors and his sister Sarah, who believes their father belongs in a care facility. In February 2008, Eli’s thirty-year career as an editor at the Halifax Tribune comes to an end when the parent company shuts down the newspaper. But even worse, on that same day, Eli’s father dies.
Suddenly alone, pressed awkwardly and unwillingly into retirement mode, racked with guilt over his father’s death, Eli accepts Sarah’s gift of an all-expenses-paid vacation in Cuba. Growing bored at the resort that Sarah has booked him into, he arranges a taxi ride to Havana and falls in with a welcoming and garrulous group of Cubans that includes Mariela, a beautiful thirty-something tour guide. Enchanted by her emerald green eyes, drawn in by her enigmatic air of melancholy, Eli soon finds himself falling in love. Spurred along by emotions long dormant, he declares himself.
But Eli is not naïve and knows he must proceed with caution. He doesn’t want to become that clichéd butt of jokes: the lonely middle-aged man seduced by a much younger woman from a poor country who feigns affection in order to secure a better life for herself. Stephen Kimber’s novel proceeds at a measured pace as Eli, back home in Halifax, considers his options and slowly emerges from an emotional cocoon of his own making. Both Eli and Mariela are dealing with ghosts from the past—ghosts that refuse to be ignored and make themselves felt tangibly in the present—and near the end of the book, the story takes on characteristics of a quest as Eli and Mariela join forces to hunt down a truth that has the power to set them both free.
The Sweetness in the Lime is a quietly powerful novel—poignant with the sorrow of great loss, uplifting with the joy of discovery. It is also a novel that often takes the reader by surprise. Kimber’s extensive research on Cuba, the land and the culture, is seamlessly incorporated, bringing the Havana scenes vividly to life but never getting in the way. Narrated in Eli’s breezy vernacular, this very human love story moves convincingly through stages of pain and grief toward a sort of reconciliation, as Eli and Mariela find solace and strength in each other and the prospect of building a future together.
The tale of Eli Cooper’s gradual awakening into a more complete life reminds us that, though the path to happiness is strewn with obstacles, and though you often can’t see what’s around the next corner, setting out on the journey is sometimes a risk worth taking.
About the author: Stephen Kimber, the author of one novel and eight books of nonfiction, is an award-winning writer, journalist, and broadcaster. He teaches at the University of King’s College in Halifax, where he specializes in creative nonfiction. For more information on the author, visit his website: stephenkimber.com
- The Sweetness in the Lime by Stephen Kimber
- Published October 31, 2020
- Vagrant Press
- ISBN: 9781771089135
- Paperback: 272 pages
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Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in many literary publications, in print and online. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Journey Prize, the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and others. His latest novel, The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard, was the winner of the 2022 Guernica Prize and was published by Guernica Editions in 2023. He lives in Halifax.