Thursday, March 1, 2012

When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmerelda Santiago

From Amazon: Esmeralda Santiago's story begins in rural Puerto Rico, where her childhood was full of both tenderness and domestic strife, tropical sounds and sights as well as poverty. Growing up, she learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs in the mango groves at night, the taste of the delectable sausage called morcilla, and the formula for ushering a dead baby's soul to heaven. As she enters school we see the clash, both hilarious and fierce, of Puerto Rican and Yankee culture. When her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be eleven children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually take on a new identity. In this first volume of her much-praised, bestselling trilogy, Santiago brilliantly recreates the idyllic landscape and tumultuous family life of her earliest years and her tremendous journey from the barrio to Brooklyn, from translating for her mother at the welfare office to high honors at Harvard.

I expected to like this one more than I did. I certainly respect the author for living the life she did, accomplishing so much, and then writing it all down to share (better than I ever could) but it just didn't flow for me. In the beginning as she is writing about her early childhood, the writing is this strange combination of really vivid images but a childlike voice. She also throws in a lot of Spanish vocabulary throughout the book; there is a glossary at the back but I am not a "go to the glossary" kind of girl, more of a "skip over it and be a little confused" girl. Finally there is a gap at the end - she gets accepted to a magnet high school and bang she's in Harvard. I know she had to stop - the book would have been double the size if she kept going, but it just seemed like it could have been done more gracefully. I blame her editor for that one.

This is not a book I would have picked up on my own, I hadn't heard of it on blogs or in other media. It was the book pick for an online book club I am a part of with some sorority sisters from college. I'm glad it was a pick - it gave me a glimpse into Puerto Rican culture that felt real and was memorable. But I felt like a doting aunt reading it - you are enjoying it because you are proud of this girl for her accomplishments but not because it is fascinating and you can't wait to turn the page.

I am trying to reach 100 books this year - I've never done it before although I have come very close, click on the logo to see how I am doing for this year!

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

The book does sound interesting - too bad it wasn't edited better.