This installment: Peruvian immigrants in Queens (f); growing up in Burundi (f); growing up in Trinidad (f); a light DVD; a teen book circa WWII (f); and deliciously mean short stories (f).
The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero
Ana is an immigrant from Peru. Her husband Lucho is a member of the Falcon family, lighter skinned, better educated. Therein lies just one of the rubs for Ana. (She’s of peasant stock and married when she got pregnant). Lucho’s out of work while Ana works punishing hours at a factory, cooks up a storm, keeps her beloved children in line, and juggles their diminishing funds while sandwiched into the guest bedroom in Lucho’s unpleasant sister-in-law’s apartment in Queens. The threat of ICE and a proposal to send the kids back to Lima all tighten the screws. I handed it to fierce Ana with her impossible dream of starting a restaurant and really wanted her to get the deal she deserved. I also appreciated the dip into Peru’s history and culture.
Small Country by Gael Faye
Boyhood in Burundi in ’92, just before all hell broke loose; hell had already been ramping up but for Gabe at 10, he’s only aware of childhood pleasures like putting together a club, poaching mangoes, and writing to a pen pal in Paris. Gabe’s father is French, his mother is Rwandan, and the borders that lead to where the rest of her family lives are tense. Then “democracy” comes with an upsurge of hope and an ensuing bloodbath, Hutu against Tutsi, etc. Nothing like the voice of a very articulate kid to bring the story home, with all its beauty and pathos.
Golden Child by Claire Adam
What a tragic set up: twins are born in Trinidad. Peter turns out to be very bright and does everything right; Paul struggles, deemed retarded (though we learn he’s actually dyslexic). A hard life for the parents, for the whole country for that matter: rampant crime and corruption despite the rural location and the beautiful tropical scenery. With a legacy from a successful uncle and a lot of scrimping, they manage to put away enough money to send Peter to college in the USA. But then there’s a kidnapping, and they get the “wrong” child. Heart-breaking and full of local color. (I love the word “steupse”—that dismissive sucking sound that punctuates everyday conversation.)
Instant Family (DVD)
I was in the mood for something light, and it really worked for me as long as I put my snarky critic in the closet for the night. This well-off couple who renovate houses decide to take on a foster child and end up with three siblings: a clever, feisty teenage girl (old beyond her years), a very sensitive boy, and a terror of a 4-year old girl. They’re in way over their heads, often ready to bail, but hang in there. Lots of humor, lots of sentiment, great stuff with a foster family support group and the two facilitators: Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro. The director, who’s made a few mainstream comedies, has a direct link to the foster child experience which adds dimension to the movie.
Lovely War by Julia Berry
The title refers to WWI and an ironic song of the era. Star-crossed lovers: two from England (Hazel and James) and Aubrey (African-American from the US) and Colette from Belgium. Hazel, Colette and Aubrey are musicians. Who’s telling the tale? Greek gods, who are eternal and manipulate our affairs though of course we don’t know it. It’s a kangaroo court of sorts in which Hephaestus, sick of his wife Aphrodite’s constant affairs, catches her with Ares, his brother. She presents the intensity and pathos of the mortal realm as testimony, and it works. Hades appears as well—all the death that comes with war. The gods narrate the action that falls into their areas of influence. A good story with vivid atmosphere and tenderness. (Note: I only realized it was a teen book after I’d finished it and looked at the spine label.)
Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine by Kevin Wilson
Ooh, these stories are mean! Deliciously so, though. A husband stabbed with a kebab skewer. A dead deer in the pond, stinking to high heaven as it were. A satanic cat. And that’s just little tastes of the first three tales. Wilson’s fertile imagination overflows with screw up variations, leavened with wicked wit. An acquired taste, perhaps, but if the inside of your head is anything like mine, you’ll eat ‘em up.
Back next week.