A genre-bending debut with a fiercely political heart, A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens explores the weight of the devil’s bargain, following the lengths one man will go to for the promise of freedom.
Hugo Contreras’s world in Miami has shrunk. Since his wife died, Hugo’s debt from her medical bills has become insurmountable. He shuffles between his efficiency apartment, La Carreta (his favorite place for a cafecito), and a botanica in a strip mall where he works as the resident babaláwo.
One day, Hugo’s nemesis calls. Alexi Ramirez is a debt collector who has been hounding Hugo for years, and Hugo assumes this call is just more of the same. Except this time Alexi is calling because he needs spiritual help. His house is haunted. Alexi proposes a deal: If Hugo can successfully cleanse his home before Noche Buena, Alexi will forgive Hugo’s debt. Hugo reluctantly accepts, but there’s one issue: Despite being a babaláwo, he doesn’t believe in spirits.
Hugo plans to do what he’s done with dozens of clients before: use sleight of hand and amateur psychology to convince Alexi the spirits have departed. But when the job turns out to be more than Hugo bargained for, Hugo’s old tricks don’t work. Memories of his past—his childhood in the Bolivian silver mines and a fraught crossing into the United States as a boy—collide with Alexi’s demons in an explosive climax.
Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens explores questions of visibility, migration, and what we owe—to ourselves, our families, and our histories.
About the Author
Raul Palma is a second-generation Cuban American born and raised in Miami. His short story collection In This World of Ultraviolet Light won the 2021 Don Belton Prize. His writing has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Greensboro Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere. He teaches fiction at Ithaca College, where he is the associate dean of faculty in Ithaca College’s School of Humanities and Sciences. A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens is his debut novel.
“It’s a rare book that scares you and makes you think in equal measures. In this viscerally affecting debut, Raul Palma reimagines the manifestations and consequences of debt in terrifying and thought-provoking ways.”—NPR, Best Books of the Year
“From laugh-out-loud moments to chilling imagery, Palma’s novel reflects on the specters that haunt us — both real and metaphorical.”—Los Angeles Times, Des Los Reads “An absorbing read that employs classic horror, societal critique, beautifully timed suspense, and a rich character study.”—BookBrowse, 5/5 Stars
“A sparkling gem of a novel…Palma writes with precision and wit, bringing out a story that’s genuinely compelling and insightful.” —CrimeReads, “The Best Debuts of October”
“The tension mounts steadily, with spine-tingling moments of horror intensifying as Hugo’s anger and remorse towards Alexi come to the forefront…Palma’s fresh interpretation of timeless themes makes this a winner.” —Publishers Weekly*starred*
“This brilliantly constructed, spectacularly chilling and original debut novel is as fresh and inventive as the devil is inescapable.” —BookPage *starred*
“Metaphors that would be heavy-handed in another writer’s hands, Palma deploys with ease, swirling together ghosts, debt, colonialism, and guilt to create something greater…A masterful tale of demons, trauma, and debt.” —Kirkus *starred*
“A captivating modern fable set in a vividly depicted Miami, rich with Latino and Afro-Latino culture, magic, and snark.” —Library Journal *starred*
“Palma’s writing brings Miami to life and populates it with wonderfully unique supporting characters for a wholly entertaining debut.” —Booklist
"Palma’s debut is filled with magic and trauma as it explores modern Latino culture. He bends genre into a new horror-tinged mythos exploring the classic immigration story. Whatever you think the experience Hialeah Gardens will provide, expect to be surprised every step of the way." —Debutiful, "Can't Miss Debut Books You Should Read This October"
"Raul Palma's novel, A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens, offers us hilarity and heartbreak in equal measure. With lush prose and an unerring eye, Palma chronicles the substrata of Miami—the human costs of immigration, poverty, debt, discrimination, and, yes, ghosts—beneath the city's breezy, tropical surface. A pitch-perfect debut." —Cristina García, author of Dreaming in Cuban and the forthcoming Vanishing Maps
“In this Faustian hell of a debut, the prose ripples with a mythical rhythm. Raul Palma has taken a splash of Oscar Hijuelos’ musical cadence, a dash of Alejo Carpentier’s magic realism, and along with his own considerable power to depict Miami lore, its humanism, its African rituals, its mysterious legends, its strong coffee—the end result is this suspenseful, stylistic, and sensory classic.”—Ernesto Quiñonez, author of Bodega Dreams
“Raul Palma’s A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens is the Florida novel of our moment. In a Miami filled with ghosts, curses, and personal loss, a Bolivian American babaláwo and his debt collector negotiate their immigrant histories and identities in relation to one another. Channeling Junot Díaz, Helena María Viramontes, and even Nathanial Hawthorne, Palma playfully limns gothic and supernatural literary traditions in order to offer a serious critique of a post-racial and post-ethnic American Dream.”—Kristiana Kahakauwila, author of This is Paradise
“The modern thriller, fantasy, magic, horror and the literary immigrant novel overlap in this at turns darkly funny, at turns heartbreaking and always disruptive debut from Raul Palma. In the ways that Walter Mosley maps and curates Los Angeles and its underbelly, Palma maps Miami - bringing the same intimacy and nuance to his cartography of place and character. Through elegant prose we follow Hugo Contreras on an epic quest for self and to resolve duty and love and redemption.”—Chris Abani, The Secret History of Las Vegas and The Virgin of Flames
“A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens is a sensitive and finely-wrought debut novel. Filled with currents of magic and sparked with sly infusions of humor, this deeply human tale of loss and grief makes room for the spiritual and the inexplicable, along with a gentle back beat of absurdism. These stories will resonate with any reader who knows what it is to straddle identities and traditions.”—Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Fencing with the King “Bright with humor and vulnerability, A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens invites us to plunge deep into the crushing darkness of indebtedness. Whether financial, spiritual, or romantic, past and present, Palma splendidly conjures demonic debts in every sense, crafting a story both thrilling and tragic. An affecting novel about the invisible demons that truly haunt us.”—Gerardo Sámano Córdova, author of Monstrilio
"Evocative and insightful, Raul Palma's writing explores the soul-crushing burden of debt, both financial and emotional. A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens masquerades as a humorous supernatural tale while reflecting deeply on the immigrant experience and daring to question the unsustainable human costs of the illusory American dream."—Rudy Ruiz, award-winning author of Valley of Shadows and The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez
“Raul Palma’s Haunting in Hialeah Gardens subtly smashes the stereotypical portrayals of the largely unstoried global city of Miami. Part detective story, part prophecy, but all corazón, this novel probes the circuits of labor, debt and love that shape the lives of immigrants and non-immigrants in South Florida and the world they're intimately connected to.”—Roberto Lovato, author of Unforgetting
“A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens, Raul Palma’s searing first novel, is a provocative portrait of Miami and of the lengths to which one man will go to absolve himself of the debts of the dead. In gorgeous, careful writing, Palma mines grief and longing for their twin attendant humors and horrors. A compulsively readable debut!” —David James Poissant, author of Lake Life
“With his new novel A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens, Raul Palma continues to provide a fresh and vital perspective on the tensions within and around Miami’s immigrant communities, particularly between those who’ve “made it” and those who have yet to, and may never, do so. Palma’s nuanced representations of the physical, emotional, and ethical costs of both positions are deeply poignant, affecting, and tinged with a dark humor, reflecting the author’s expansive, not uncritical heart.”—Michael Mejia, author of Tokyo