Thursday, November 6, 2008

It takes an island to raise a child.

What struck me most about the second half of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was the amount of people who actually contributed to the lives of these girls. It seemed to cement that old saying that "it takes a village to raise a child", although in this case perhaps the whole Dominican Republic was in on it!

In pondering the reverse chronological order of the book, apart from the chapters actually being published for the first time out of order (which could be another clue to their innovation), I would also like to think that this set-up is to give us a view of the girls' adult, 'developed' personalities, and then bring us back to the points in time that helped shape them into who they have become. I enjoyed this style, as the technique isn't all that common. It made me feel like a psychiatrist with each girl on my couch recounting their life stories and I had to be the one that decided which experience had affected them in which way. On this note, I found that many of the girls saw the world through the lens of their hobbies. Yoyo's chapters were founded by a much more poetic voice which showed how her entire life was governed by this talent for words which she has. Sandi, as the early artist in the family, speaks of the sky as a ''cloudy canvas'' (page 245). It was refreshing how the language the girls used in describing their lives stemmed from their varied talents.

In Sandi's chapter 'Floor Show', the truth of how a nice person can make all the difference to a foreigner shone through. Although due to Mrs. Fannings crazy antics this may not be what we are supposed to take away from this chapter, I still felt humbled by the presence of someone (Mr. Fanning) who would help this family enjoy a dinner out of the house while they were in dire straits. In my travels I have found the most memorable moments come from when a native of the country helps me out: a ride to the next town, extra money, directions, ANYTHING!!! Also, when I travelled in South America, one dollar could go a long way. So although I am not an immigrant as the Garcías are in the book, I feel their powerlessness when I return to a first-world country and a buck can't even get you a bus ticket. How terrible it would be to leave your home country as a well-off family to come to an unforgiving city where you have trouble making ends meet.

I really wish that Alvarez had written the speaking on the island IN SPANISH!! I found it hard to relate to Mamita when she yells, supposedly in Spanish, "Damn it!...You all say he pees holy water, well he's been peeing it all right!" I guess I just feel like such an outburst should be written in the mother tongue; but with the majority of the book being in English, it is more inviting to a larger English-speaking audience...which is perhaps whom Alvarez is trying to reach. Although I must say, I love the christmas carol on page 264 which goes: "A Santa Claus le gusta el vino, A Santa Claus le gusta el ron..." Those Dominican Santas sure know how to party! ;)


deanna-maria said...

I also found that the English dialogue that occurred in the Dominican Republic was a bit odd...I feel like it would have enriched the words and give us a window into Dominican culture if it had been in Spanish, but like you mentioned, I suppose this book was mostly in English because of its audience...

Kaan said...

Oh Katie, your blog always makes me laugh, or at least smile. This time I definitely laughed!

I found your observation interesting about how each of the girls personalities are reflected through their hobbies or pastimes in life. Definitely something I noticed, but the way you brought it up gives it more significance. I think this aspect of the book is most visible in the character of Yolanda. Obviously her stories are the most powerful and lengthy in the novel, and you really do see the poetic/writer side of her shine through. I can even see the schoolteacher in her as well.

I think that the compassion that the Fanning's had for the Garcia family was also very interesting. Obviously the two men shared some sort of common interest in business, but they definitely went that extra mile, perhaps knowing how much it would mean to the Garcia's, and how little skin it is off their back. Like you said, the littlest things can mean a lot to the right person (or people) in the right situation. But I must say...cute how they took them to a Spanish restaurant!