The bilingual language of love

August 16, 1999|By Dana Calvo | Dana Calvo,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

MIAMI -- The city where people make deals, dinner and love in two languages now has its own bilingual bodice-rippers.

The country's first line of Spanish-English romance novels arrives in bookstores this month, with two of the four stories about Cuban lovers in Miami.

The series will be rolled out as "Encanto Romances," with the Spanish story followed by its English translation in each book.

"Love is a universal thing," said Diane Stockwell, editor of Encanto Romances. "It's just as steamy and emotionally strong as love stories for other cultures."

"Forever True," or "Solo Tuya," follows the adventures of Elena Garcia, a spunky Cuban-American law school dropout who waits tables in South Beach. By chance, she runs into Antonio. He was her high school sweetheart, the boy whose arm she held as she walked into her own quinceanera, the Latin celebration of a girl's 15th birthday.

They fall in love, but before they can follow their dreams to New York City they must triumph over her doubting mother.

The author, Elaine Alberro, 39, has always written about Latinas in love and the conflict with their mothers.

"People said there was no place in the market for it. But I kept doing it, because I could relate to it," she said, speaking from her office in Miami where she is a part-time accountant.

Separating from their parents can be particularly traumatic for Latin women.

"In Latins, it's embedded in us to be obedient to our parents," Alberro said.

"My favorite scene is at the end, when Elena realizes that she needs to be independent and follow her own heart rather than be influenced by what her family's needs are. That's what I felt. Every Latin woman can relate to it."

Kensington Publishing, the country's No. 2 romance publisher behind Harlequin, will roll out 80,000 copies of each book.

The idea for bilingual Hispanic romance novels evolved from a 1994 project called "Arabesque," a line of romance novels geared toward African-American women. Its success portended high revenues from targeting niche groups, Stockwell said.

"Harlequin is doing translation, but it's straight translations. No one's conceived a line from the beginning with Latino authors and themes," Stockwell said.

The Encanto series was unveiled at last week's national Romance Writers of America convention in Chicago. The publisher already has a distribution deal in Spain and is completing a deal for audio books.

Charis McEachern, spokeswoman for Romance Writers of America, a national association, said romance fiction sales grow "slow and steady" at 1 percent annually.

Romance fiction, which McEachern defined as "a monogamous love story of one heroine and one hero with a happy ending and no adultery," accounts for 53 percent of all mass-market paperback fiction sales.

No one seems willing to make sales projections for a series that taps into the fastest-growing population in the United States.

The trick, according to author Caridad Scordato, is not just to write about love and lust, but to write about class clashes, too -- an increasingly complex conflict among Hispanics in the United States.

Scordato's book "Now and Always" or "Para Siempre" is the love story of Connie Gonzalez, a "Marielita," one of a large number of refugees from Fidel Castro's Cuba who arrived in Florida in the early 1980s, and Victor, the son of wealthy Cubans well-established in Miami.

In one scene, the couple meets for dinner at Versailles, the most famous Cuban coffee joint in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

In small talk laced with common Spanish phrases, they both order Cuban sandwiches. Connie orders a mango milkshake, and the blue-eyed Victor orders a mamey milkshake.

But as Connie and Victor's feelings intensify, so does their physical relationship.

In vivid language, the reader sees Connie and Victor's sweaty, breathless sex scenes.

In the end, it is Victor's social-climbing mother who threatens to sabotage their relationship.

She has bigger plans for her upper class son than to marry Connie, who must rise above the negative stereotype of many members of the Mariel Boatlift.

"She makes it clear to him that Connie is not the type of girl he should marry," said Scordato, who was born in Cuba.

"That's what makes Connie so brave. She has to prove things to herself, and then to the rest of the world, too."

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