Thursday, November 20, 2008

¿Abuela loca, no?

So, did you like the book?

The start of the story, set in Miami during Ana and Carlos' childhood, I found very unpleasant to read and a real struggle to get through.  

I don't know about you, but I personally did not relish reading about a family of refugees who had chosen to take a chance on a new life in America, but who were not making the most of their chance.  I thought the characters should just get over themselves.  I thought they should stop blaming each other for their unhappiness.  

The only thing that kept me reading was the fact that I had chosen this book from the CAE Catalogue, and everyone was going through this unpleasant reading experience because of me!

Repeatedly, Ana blames her grandmother Dolores for being the poison at the heart of the family.  However, while reading that first section I did not feel any sympathy for Ana or for Consuelo (especially when she got out of Dolores' way to allow her to beat Ana more thoroughly).  At that point I didn't believe that the family's unhappiness was more Dolores' fault than anyone else's.

But once I got past that section, and got to reading more about what happened before they left Cuba, I began to understand the reasons why the family were so unhappy in Miami.  

Consuelo's Lost Love

If you didn't make it all the way through the book (Natalia I'm talking to you) you might not have caught up with the fact that when she was young and astoundingly beautiful, Consuelo fell in love with a rich music student by the name of Daniel.  Daniel was the love of Consuelo's life, and when Dolores violently broke them up, incidentally ruining Daniel's music career by damaging the tendons in his hands, Consuelo decided to forget Daniel.  Instead, she turned to Pedro, a man of her own social class and approved of by Dolores.  However, Consuelo never could  forget Daniel.  She was never happy with Pedro, even in the early years of their marriage when they lived in La Habana before the revolution.

Daniel is the man Ana sees around the place in Miami, the good looking stranger who she wonders about.  (**spoiler alert**) He is, in fact, her father.  At the end of the book, Ana tries to describe what it must have been like for her mother to meet up again with the love of her life after fifteen years apart; to make love to him and become pregnant, and yet decide not to leave her husband for him.  Ana says that Consuelo had no choice but to stay with Pedro because of  Daniel's dangerous life fighting the counter-revolution.

Throughout the book, Ana describes her mother as having 'inertia' and paints her as quite a helpless person, yet it was Consuelo's decision to leave Cuba in the first place, against the revolution and knowing that they would leave at great personal cost.  So she couldn't have been completely helpless, could she?  Do you think Ana makes excuses for her mother?

An Immigrant Story

In the book notes, this story is described as an important 'immigrant story'.  By the end of the book I could understand it best in those terms.   I thought to myself that it was important to tell the stories, even the sad hopeless stories, of what happens when a country is wracked by revolution and its people are given the choice to either stay and suffer or leave and suffer somewhere else.  I appreciated that it was not the purpose of this book to say whether the revolution was right or wrong; it just showed what happened to one family in its aftermath.

Did you think of this most as a story about immigrants?  Or about child abuse?  or mothering? or a story about a political situation?

Do you think it is important to read the unhappy stories as well as the happy ones?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Rooms in My Mother's House - Olga Lorenzo

Driven from Cuba after the revolution, three generations of women - Dolores, Consuelo and Ana - settle in an old farmhouse near Miami's Little Havana.  With Consuelo's gambling husband, and son Carlos, they rebuild their lives from the foundations up.  But the floors are shifting beneath their feet, shaky as their pasts.  In that hot strange place they do battle from room to room - with each other, with their history, with the ghosts that linger in the space between their hearts.

And from the CAE Catalogue:
...The spirit world blends fabulously with their material one in this vibrant novel.  Some content may upset readers.  Several groups have commented on the 'ugliness' and human cruelty portrayed in this book.

Click here to read an article (from the Miami Herald in 1998) which mentions Olga Lorenzo and among other emigrants who left Cuba after the revolution.  The article describes Miami as "the official waiting room of exile, where Cubans dream, wait and plot the end of Castro's rule."  

Our next meeting
will be on Tuesday 9 December
Venue to be confirmed

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Dressmaker - Rosalie Ham

After twenty years away, Myrtle Dunnage returns to Dungatar - a small country town whose people's eccentricities are many and varied.  From Sergeant Farrat's predilection for cross-dressing, to pharmacist Almanac's retributive scheme of potion dispensing, not forgetting extra-marital affairs and assorted dark secrets, it seems that everyone in town has a seamier side. But none of these can compare to the sin of Tilly and her mother: to have come from somewhere else.  At first ostracised, the townspeople gradually accept her in order to make use of her extraordinary dressmaking skills and, at last, Tilly feels that she might have found home.

But small towns are strange places where vanity rules, and, once again reviled, Tilly sets out to teach the town a lesson. In the process she faces the ghosts of her past, and wreaks a havoc that provides a most satisfying revenge.

This is a story of love, hate and haute couture. A warm and nasty book, The Dressmaker evokes Drysdale's 'Drover's Wife' dressed in Chanel. 

The above blurb is from the publisher's website.  I think it's more insightful and accurate than the one on the back of the book.  I particularly like the description 'warm and nasty'.  One thing I've wondered is:  for a town so vain and so obsessed with appearances, how come they don't have a beauty parlour?  It could have been a really good setting for vanity, bad taste and bitchiness of the town's inhabitants - not to mention visits on the sly by Sergeant Farrat.

What do you think of the book so far?

Do you know, or have you lived in, a town like Dungatar?