Archive for the ‘immigration’ Tag

Seeking Asylum   Leave a comment

This may not be a popular stance to take, but American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins doesn’t deserve all the negative hype surrounding its publication. Primarily, she’s accused of misappropriating the migrant stories of those from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras because she isn’t Latina.

Not all stories about the Holocaust are written by those with a direct or indirect connection. That’s the beauty of imagination: it shouldn’t have limits.

Granted, Cummins’ novel isn’t perfect due to predictability, extraneous characters and the perceived need to translate Spanish words and phrases. Nonetheless, it’s a riveting story that’s difficult to put down and stop thinking about.

In her author’s notes/acknowledgements, Cummins describes the extent of her research, which is impressive. The narrative’s power lies in the truth of the ordeal her characters endure seeking a better life in el norte.

Sixteen members of Lydia’s family are killed by a cartel at her niece’s quiceanera. Lydia and her eight-year-old son are the sole survivors and know they need to run or face a similar end. The story’s rapid pace rarely slows down as mother and son attempt to elude the cartel first by bus to Mexico City where they discover it’s impossible for them to board a plane, then by train but not as comfortable passengers. Instead, they join other migrants trying to reach the United States and risk their lives by riding atop the railroad cars.

Their journey is fraught with obvious danger, surprise friendships, palpable fear, and self-discovery. It’s worth reading.

American Dirt
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Flatiron Books, 2020
383 pages

Seeing What We Want to See   Leave a comment

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Don’t be fooled by the fact that Erika L. Sanchez’s novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, falls into the Young Adult category. Family relationships, immigration, education and mental health are among the issues Sanchez addresses. These are matters that should be of interest to everyone, regardless of age.

Julia Reyes, a bright and funny 15-year-old girl, lives with her family in a poor Chicago neighborhood. Her parents entered the U.S. illegally years before and work in menial jobs. Julia dreams of being a writer and going to college in New York City. Her older sister, Olga, considered the good and obedient daughter, has just died in a freak accident.

Julia and her parents express their grief differently, but none are able to reach out to the other for support. Julia has always been at odds with her mother while her father has grown more distant. Much to Julia’s annoyance, Olga was idolized by everyone around her – especially her mother. Yet, Julia discovers some questionable items in Olga’s bedroom leading her to suspect no one in her family truly knew her seemingly perfect sister.

The author incorporates humor and has crafted well-developed characters to move the narrative beyond the life of a poor inner city girl. Julia is aware of the limitations around her, but doesn’t want them to define her. As she struggles to learn more about Olga, she learns things about her parents and herself. Fortunately, Sanchez uses a light hand when conveying such heavy themes.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2017
344 pages

Packing for a Long Trip   1 comment

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I’m a sucker for a good title and that’s the reason I read Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s Panic in a Suitcase. The book was included on the long list of the Tournament of Books. It didn’t make the cut to the short list, and I can see why.

Akhtiorskaya’s novel begins in 1993 with the Nasmeratovs who have settled in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach following the Soviet Union’s collapse. They are a continent away from their roots, but the new community is a little Russia where shops, restaurants and neighbors share the same language and customs. Assimilation isn’t necessary.

Pasha Nasmeratov is a poet and the one family member who remains on native soil. He visits his family in New York, but never commits to immigrating. His sister, her husband and their daughter live with Pasha’s parents in a crowded apartment. Pasha is the link to the past in many ways. Jump ahead to 2008 and Frida, his niece, is grown up. She’s intrigued by the mother land, but is rooted in an inability to embrace the future while clinging to the past, even one she doesn’t remember. Frida was young when the family left Odessa.

The problem is there’s too much jumping from one character or location to another. Still, the author’s writing is rich in clever turns of phrase and vivid imagery. Humor is a lively resident among the prose: “Frida stumbled past tidy strips of lawn, her favorite with a PLEASE CARB YOUR DOG sign…”

Panic in a Suitcase
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2014
307 pages