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review 2017-07-02 19:14
Marcos Ramirez by Carlos Luis Fallas
Marcos Ramírez - Carlos Luis Fallas

This is an enjoyable tale of a boy growing up in Costa Rica in the 1910s and 1920s. It is mostly episodic, without an overarching plot, and Marcos spends most of his time misbehaving and causing trouble, so the Tom Sawyer comparison feels apt. The specific details of Marcos’s life feel real rather than drawn from fictional tropes, so I suspected the book was autobiographical even before learning from the brief autobiographical essay in the front that all the facts of Marcos’s life match Fallas’s.


It is a colorful and entertaining book, and it’s not your stereotypical Costa Rica: the boys, including Marcos, are quite violent, and at one point he runs off with the army when war with Panama is brewing. Marcos is a lively if sometimes exasperating character, though there’s little development of anyone else – we get to know his mother and uncle a bit, but the book’s autobiographical nature means his friends are represented by an ever-changing stream of boys who put in brief appearances, and few other characters register much. Toward the end we read more about Marcos’s schooling, which is interesting but not in the same way; there’s a lot of school politics and criticism of teachers for whom memorization is the highest form of learning. But the couple of episodes in which Marcos uses cruelty to animals to revenge himself on their owners were my least favorite.


Overall though, this is a fun book; Fallas seems to be one of those few authors who can write about childhood from the inside rather than imposing an adult viewpoint on the narrative. It’s a shame this book apparently has never been translated to English, as I suspect it could find a healthy readership.

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review 2016-12-29 04:38
Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario
Enrique's Journey - Sonia Nazario

This would be a great book club choice. It's gripping, it's a very quick read despite being nonfiction (large font and generous margins make it feel shorter than its 260 pages), and of course it's about a hot topic: illegal immigration to the U.S. from Latin America. The protagonist, Enrique, sets off from Honduras for the U.S. at age 17, searching for his mother, who immigrated twelve years before. The book primarily dramatizes Enrique's dangerous journey through Mexico - jumping on and off of moving trains and evading corrupt and often violent authorities, who seek to deport Central American migrants to Guatemala, as well as the gangs who prey on migrants. All this makes for compelling reading, and is eye-opening; in the U.S. we have little sense of what people have to risk and endure to enter the country illegally. Nazario also writes about the circumstances in Honduras that compel so many to immigrate - for many mothers, it's a matter of not being able to feed their children - and about Enrique's family's lives in the U.S. And she interviews quite a few people who work with or encounter migrants, adding depth to the story.

So I probably should urge all Americans to read this. But. The writing style is a bit simplistic. The present tense is an awkward choice for nonfiction, and the author has the tendency to remind us of simple facts several times over. A bit more context would have helped too. In introducing her project, Nazario explains she wanted to write about a Central American boy who came by train. But the book doesn't give much sense of how many migrants use the trains vs. other routes, and the focus on the train journeys of Central American migrants leaves little sense of what immigration might look like for the Mexicans who make up the majority of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Finally, while perhaps the story can speak for itself, I felt a stronger policy argument at the end would have been appropriate. Instead the author basically says, "okay, now here are some good things and some bad things about immigration," and then it ends.

I still think people should read this, because if you're going to have a strong opinion about something you should be informed about it. But if you can recommend a better book along the same lines, please let me know.

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review 2016-12-05 06:44
The Saddle Maker's Son (Amish Of Bee County #3) by Kelly Irvin
The Saddle Maker's Son - Kelly Irvin

Rebekah Lantz feels imprisoned by circumstances she didn’t create. Tobias Byler is haunted by regret. Can two young runaways from half a world away teach them the healing power of true family? Rebekah isn’t like her sister who left the Amish faith, but the watchful gaze of her family and small, close-knit Amish community makes her feel as if she’s been judged and found lacking. The men avoid her and the women whisper behind her back. She simply longs for the same chance to be a wife and mother that her friends have. Tobias Byler only wants to escape feelings for a woman he knows he should never have allowed to get close to him. Moving with his family to isolated Bee County, Texas, seemed the best way to leave his mistakes behind. But even a move across the country can’t erase the past that accompanies his every thought. A surprise encounter with two half-starved runaway children forces Rebekah and Tobias to turn to each other to help a sister and brother who have traveled thousands of miles in search of lives of unfettered peace and joy. In doing so, Rebekah and Tobias discover the key to forgetting the past is the one that will open the door to love and the future they both seek.





Teaching Assistant  Rebekah Lantz feels her Amish community is harshly (and wrongly) judging her for the actions of her sister, who chose to leave the Amish faith. The women gossip, the men hesitate to court her. 


Meanwhile, Tobias Byler is trying to work off the shame of a failed relationship with an Englisch (non-Amish) woman. He was tempted to drift away from all he knew to be with her but soon realized he didn't want to (could not, even) abandon his Amish roots. Heavy with the guilt of leading his lady love on only to have to break things off, Tobias comes to Bee County to begin anew. 


The paths of Tobias and Rebekah connect when both are brought together to help two lost children who stumble into the community of the Bee County Amish. At first glance, these two children seem to have the look of runaways, but the truth quickly comes out. Tobias and Rebekah don't have the smoothest introduction right off. In fact, in pretty much no time flat Rebekah is already fighting feelings of guilt for bringing Tobias into a situation where she has to ask him to lie for her, before they hardly know each other at all. 


Spanish turns out to be the native tongue of the lost children. Neither child seems to know more than a word or two of English, but luckily Rebekah knows enough conversational Spanish to gather that the older child, a girl of 12, is named Lupe while her brother is Diego. They say they were sent by their grandmother, on their own, from El Salvador (Central America) to Texas to try to locate their missing father. Lupe and her brother show signs of being a bit malnourished and seem to be wary around grown men -- any adult men, always fearing they might be "the bad men" -- and jumpy at the sound of guns. 


The Amish of Bee County -- the children especially -- seem to take to Lupe & Diego quite quickly. Likewise, Lupe & Diego are fascinated with the culture and find they pick up English quickly here. The whole situation also gives Rebekah a break in that the town gossips let up off her a bit, instead showing their support and encouragement for her interest in the children. Many community members agree that any relatives of the children should try to be located, though some fear what it might mean for Bee County legally should word get out that they might be harboring undocumented immigrants. Rebekah herself of course wants to locate any of Lupe and Diego's relatives, but also worries that if none can be found, that these children might fall victim to being shuffled around and lost in the States' foster care system after they've already been through so much. There are also those who air their suspicions that the children might have ties to terrorist plots.


Rebekah, to ensure that the children have the best chance possible at a good life, enlists the help of none other than her sister Leila....the same sister who left the faith and put so much strain on Rebekah's own life. But Leila's husband just happens to work with non-profits that provide assistance to newly immigrated families, work that has him interacting with immigrants and the immigration office pretty much on a daily basis! Rebekah figures if there is anyone who knows their stuff, it'd be him! 


Okay, so first off I have to vent and say that I was not impressed with the spoilers author Kelly Irvin left in her Note To Readers at the beginning of the book, regarding the other books in this series. I've seen quite a few reviews where readers have mentioned picking this book up without having read the previous (as I did) but way to kill some of the surprise if and when they might choose to go back to the earlier stories! Not cool! 


Alright, that out of my system... on to this book and my thoughts.  I do like the themes Irvin works with here. Not only does she illustrate the pain of being shunned (either literally or figuratively) by the people you most love for things you cannot control, but also uses her characters to show that one can work through the forgetting or forgiving of mistakes through the process of helping others worse off. Perfect reminder any time of year but especially nice to read during this holiday season. :-)


Rebekah herself is an admirable character, strong in her sense of self, comfortable with sharing her thoughts and opinions... a trait that gets her the label of "firecracker". Been there, girl. I can relate! {You say firecracker like it's a bad thing, ammirite ;-)} I also enjoyed experiencing the warm and caring sisterhood between Rebekah and Leila. I only have a brother myself, but this is what I imagine having a sister must feel like -- when you're on good terms with them that is! 


As far as the slow burning romance between Rebekah and Tobias, it was molasses slow for me! I can appreciate a decent slow burn but with these two I just kept wanting to hit the FF button already. Nope, just too lukewarm and dragged out IMO. I even laughed when at around 200 pages, after pages of started-cute-now-tedious bickering, Rebekah says "maybe we should start over..." What? aww no girl, there's only like 155 pages til final curtain so let's just wrap this forced mess up already, 'kay? Susan and Levi had a better story on that front (at least for me).... and the closing of David and Bobbie's story was pretty touching.


My interest was primarily held simply on the story of the bundle package of cuteness known as Lupe and Diego. I found their journey to the States very much relevant to the times now, given the uncertainty many US citizens have over our newly elected president's statements / stand on immigration issues. This is just one story that illustrates that yes, borders have to be protected, but at the same time there are lives of children, CHILDREN, at stake... a reality that should not be taken lightly or approached with an all or nothing point of view. It's not and won't be a clear cut, black and white issue... there will be plenty of layers of gray for some time to come and at the very least we have to acknowledge that with an empathetic heart.  





Note To Readers: This is the third book in Irvin's Amish of Bee County series. As I mentioned previously, I have not read the first two. While there were some minor points in the story where I felt something was being referenced that I did not quite catch the importance of, feeling like it must have been a nod to the earlier books, I still had no trouble reading this as a standalone piece. You can also find some of Irvin's short stories (set in this community, I believe) in the Amish themed anthologies An Amish Market and An Amish Christmas Gift.



BONUS: Irvin throws in a little something extra for her readers at the back of this book. In a nod to the Salvadoran heritage of her characters Lupe & Diego, Irvin offers a few Salvadoran recipes for you to try out!



FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2016-08-07 20:46
Dr Who I need to borrow the tardis!
Zama - Antonio Di Benedetto

For lack of a better term, I think you could call this South American historical Noir. Di Benedetto's wring is great, wonderful, powerful. He does things with sentences that make my knees weak.

So why three stars?

Because like Celine, this book has a narrator who I think should get hit by a bus; however, buses weren't around when the book takes place. I'm glad I read. I will most likely track down other books, but I was wishing for a bus. (Strangely, though the ending was great).

(2016 NYRB Book Club selection for Aug).

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