Sour Life

“Zaragoza uses first-person narrative to explore war, drugs, and murder. Vivid, realistic details, portraying some horrific images, but the tone never is without its emotional core.”

A Cuban family patriarch, late in life, narrates Sour Life, historical fiction surrounding his family’s fight to preserve democracy in that Caribbean island nation; their ultimate loss of their beloved homeland and emigration to the United States; his service as a Green Beret in the Vietnam War; and subsequent medical service in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Underlying these efforts is his struggle to thwart drug trafficking and find the CIA killer of his Laotian wife and unborn child.

Revisionist history dominates the first section on Cuba and takes the reader around the world as the patriarch fulfills his mission to deliver healthcare and hunt the killer, ultimately ending in war-torn Nicaragua, where he exacts his revenge. He descends into one careless delivery of drugs and lands in federal prison on a five-year sentence. That section departs from fiction and gives an eye-opening inside look at the problems in the U.S. criminal justice system, as does his re-entry first through a halfway house and then back into the real world where he again struggles to find his rightful place and restore relationships with his family. From beginning to end, Sour Life is touching, well-balanced historical fiction, filled with romance and revenge, drama and determination: a real page-turner.


Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers’ Favorite

Sour Life by Pablo Omar Zaragoza and Susan Giffin tells the life story of Mr. Melendez. A mass is found on his x-ray, so while in the hospital, he begins telling his grandson stories of his history, starting with his grandfather coming from Cuba to America and going into his gritty journey. History is intertwined into a life story involving war, loss, romance, and a fall into drug delivery which results in a stint in prison. He dives back into his past by revealing his secrets and the lessons he learned throughout his life, from the loss of his first wife and the revenge he sought for her death to what led him to the present day. As he gets his life back on track, he discovers shocking secrets and works to reconnect with his family.

Sour Life is told from the perspective of a grandfather to his grandson as he recounts his life through a historical backdrop and experiences involving war, romance, love, and loss. Family history and his own personal struggles throughout his life are slowly revealed to his grandson as the plot weaves between various points of the past and the present. Zaragoza and Giffin use a first-person narrative to explore serious themes which include war, drugs, and murder. The past has a gritty and dark tone which often includes scenes with graphic violence. Balancing out these darker moments are the emotional struggles he faces in both the past and the present through his relationships with his family and the tragic romances of his past. He’s experienced a great deal of loss throughout his life, but over the course of the story he discovers this chance to reconnect with his family.

As he struggles with an illness, he finds himself in a vulnerable place which gives him a push to reveal his story. The story he shares feels like not only family history but his own personal life lessons and a way to unburden himself of everything he went through. Delving into his past allows him a chance to deal with his mistakes, his losses, and by the end he seems to reach closure. The details are vivid and realistic, portraying some horrific images, but the tone is never without its emotional core as Sour Life tells a story about family and second chances.

2019 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards