Coconuts for the Saint

Engine Books, 2020

Winner of the John C. Zacharis First Book Award
Barnes & Noble BookSense Selection

Debra Spark’s recently reissued debut novel opens on the doorstep of a bakery on a blue street in Puerto Rico, where Maria Elena faints…only to be revived by sweet morsels of wedding cake.

“Eloquent and enchanting… a delightful novel…reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende.”

— The Boston Book Review

Engine Books, 2020

On the doorstep of a bakery on a blue street in Puerto Rico, Maria Elena faints. Revived by sweet morsels of wedding cake, she falls headlong into the lives of Sandrofo Cordero Lucero and his identical triplet daughters. Sandrofo came to the island from America ten years before to start a new life. A widower, he has not taken a lover since, and Maria Elena resolves to find out why. But her questions to Sandrofo are met with silence, and her insatiable curiosity about his past threatens the family’s elaborately constructed identity. InCoconuts for the Saint, Debra Spark has written an enchanting, astonishingly beautiful novel about memory, love, the mysteries of fate, and the very nature of self.


“The Boston-based editor of Twenty Under Thirty reveals her own promise with this magical first novel, centered around a set of identical girl triplets and their mysterious father, who tries to lose himself in sunny Puerto Rico. In 1968 Sandrofo Cordero Lucero leaves Brooklyn with his three five-year-old daughters, hoping for a new, safe, anonymous life in the Caribbean. Having inherited a small San Juan bakery from his wife, who died in childbirth, Sandrofo promptly learns a baker’s skills and spends the next ten years kneading dough and baking wedding cakes while his daughters serve a motley crew of customers over the counter. The three Lucero sisters–Tata, a dramatic actress-to-be; Melone, the smart one; and Beatriz, a sensitive girl who refuses to speak–are too obsessed with the town’s daily scandals and intrigues to wonder why their quiet, handsome father refuses to seek a girlfriend and never talks about his past. Their complacency is challenged when 35-year-old Maria Elena Pico, an employee at a local art gallery, falls in love with Sandrofo and begins to question his daughters about their prePuerto Rican life. The girls realize they know almost nothing about their early history, and this discovery prompts them to explore their own emerging personalities and discover who they have become. Meanwhile, Maria Elena persists in digging into Sandrofo’s origins, playing 20 Questions with her lover and finally consulting a local psychic. Her persistence and Sandrofo’s refusal to own up to his duplicity eventually bring disaster to his family. In the end, Maria Elena and the girls learn that it is the love they share, more than who they happen to be, that provides home and security for them all. A captivating, sweetly lyrical tale by an up-and-coming talent. (First serial to Agni, the Boston Globe, and Epoch).”

— Kirkus Review

“Eloquent and enchanting… a delightful novel… reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. Spark has combined an acute sense of place with a suspenseful plot… and with characters that are emotionally believable and realistic.”

—The Boston Book Review

“A gorgeous novel… as richly imaginative, wildly sensual and wisely unsettling as they come. Real world magic.”

—Washington Post Book World

“Debra Spark’s first novel reveals a Proustian longing for what was. Spark’s Puerto Rico is an island of lost loves, of romantic hopes, and of secrets withheld–all of which beckon like a tray of sweets behind the bakery window.”

—Kathryn Harrison

“Debra Spark is an extremely intelligent and imaginative writer. Her long-awaited first novel is graceful and ambitious—storytelling at its best.”

—Lorrie Moore

“Debra Spark writes like some pixilated offspring of a secret liaison between J.D. Salinger and Isabel Allende. Coconuts for the Saint is an elixir constituted of equal parts grace, wild humor, exquisite tenderness, and ferocious heart. One taste is sufficient to leave the head reeling from its chorus of voice, the mind wide-open and convinced of miracles.”

—Steve Stern

“An excellent debut novel that examines the nature of love, the power of family and the inexorable pull of the past… Spark uses her intricate, multilayered structure to deliver a myriad of entertaining scenes and marvelous insights.”

—Publishers Weekly (starred review)