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American Chica (thoughts)

December 29, 2008

Orbis Terrarum ChallengeLet’s get something out of the way right away: I loved this memoir! Marie Arana, born to a Peruvian father and American mother, describes her childhood, mainly in Peru with stints in America, in American Chica. First of all, the writing is incredible-easily the best literary style of any memoir I’ve read. Secondly, Arana’s ability to bring a place to life, especially Peru, and really make the reader part of the experience is breathtaking. She also includes relevent portions of Peruvian history, so I enjoyed learning more about the country. And finally, Arana’s family members, whose backstory is sprinkled into the book, are fascinating.

Basically, each ingredient necessary for a wonderful memoir is here, and I recommend this to everyone. I don’t think I need to review any more than that! Just look at my favourite passages if you need convincing. ;)

Favourite Passages
He was a charismatic man, Julio Cesar: a ringleader, a schemer. He was straight-backed, with powerful shoulders, a high, arrogant forehead, and a weakness for elegant clothes. By eighteen, he’d decided to make a career in rubber. He married Eleonora Zumaeta, a small-town aristocrat, and with her brother established an enterprise called J.C. Arana Brothers, Inc. By twenty, he’d recruited an army of foremen. By twenty-five, he was buying up land from Colombian adventurers, putting rainforest Indiands to work-forcibly-by the thousands, running a business from Iquitos to Manaus, two medullas of rubber that would drive the automobile into the industrial age. By the turn of the century, Julio Cesar had finagled enough leases and staked enough claims to master the rubber-rich Putumayo, a lush stretch of jungle between two tributaries that echoed his name: the Igaraparana and the Caraparana.

Whole cultures are in dispute. My gringa mother had assumed that her baby was someting between her, her husband, and God. My abuelita had assumed that her grandchild was the first of a new generation, the next row in the family cloth, an offering to the family matriarch. Hers.
They say that motherhood everywhere is the same. That mothers give birth and mothers give milk, and up and down the animal kingdom real differences do not exist. I know it isn’t so.

The letter begins a standoff Peruvians call pleito: that inching toward fury, that lingering grudge to the grave. There’s no word for it in English. It’s more than a simple resentment, less than an all-out war. It’s coal fire beneath a prairie, hell under the vista. You come, you go, you chat in the sala-the exterior looks perfectly normal-but a fire is reaming your gut.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2008 8:13 am

    Wow, this sounds great. I love the passage you included.

  2. December 29, 2008 2:35 pm

    Just the fact that I’ve yet to read a book set in Peru makes me want to pick this up. And your 5 stars rating helps a lot too!

  3. December 29, 2008 4:52 pm

    Andi, it is great! Go read it! :p j/k

    Nymeth, it evokes Peru so well. I’d only read one other book set in the country, so that was a lot of its appeal to me too.

  4. March 26, 2010 6:24 am

    Thank you for your comments. I recently read the book and was particularly interested in the theme of the divided or two-part person:


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