Thursday, January 30, 2020

Vulnerable and Sympathetic Characters

“Yes. Patience is a process that births forgiveness.” 
-- Natalia Sylvester, Everyone Knows You Go Home p. 305)

If you've never really been vulnerable, this book can make you understand what really precarious living is like, understand through the lives of characters who flee the gangs in Central America to cross the burning desert and then live in the shadows in Texas. 

Everyone Knows You Go Home begins with a ghost:
"They were married on the Day of the Dead, el Día de los Muertos, which no one gave much thought to in all the months of planning, until the bride’s deceased father-in-law showed up in the car following the ceremony. He manifested behind the wheel, then stretched his arm over the back of the passenger’s seat as he turned to face Martin and Isabel." (p. 1).
The ghost reappears on the newly-married couple's anniversary every year, as Isabel learns more and more about her husband's family and why the now-dead father disappeared from their lives. A story of violence and danger could be melodramatic, but the skillful writing in this novel avoids sensationalism. As Isabel discovers the stories of her husband and his relatives, they become more and more appealing and understandable.

It's amazing that a story about people who are vulnerable can also be so delicate. They are vulnerable because of their status as immigrants (even with a green card), because of their relationships with partners whose lives were damaged, because of illness and death, and because they have lost their loved ones or witnessed deaths up close. When they cross the border to Texas, they are vulnerable to the "coyotes" who stash them in car trunks and in unpleasant hidden motels. All are vulnerable to gangs who rob them of everything; women are vulnerable to violent men who might sexually assault them. Yet the story of the family in the book is vividly individualized, and their experiences are portrayed with sensitivity.

Recently, I’ve been reading about a controversy over a white woman of privilege who received millions of dollars for a novel telling the story of Central American refugees trying to flee across Mexico to the US border. The outrage, in my opinion, isn’t so much that she “appropriated” their story, but that publishers only pay big money to white women, not to Latina women who tell such stories. I saw a list of books by authors of color who didn’t get rich, but whose works, it was said, were better than the one that hit the jackpot. I’m glad I found the list which led me to this excellent book, but unfortunately I don’t remember where I read it.

This blog post copyright © 2020 by mae sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com. Blogs that republish this without permission are stealing it.


Iris Flavia said...

Some things change very slowly.

Jeanie said...

Your last paragraph here might be the most important in the piece. Wow... that's shocking.

Tandy | Lavender and Lime ( said...

Thanks for sharing this, and the comment about how payments work for authors. It makes reading blog reviews even more important when choosing books, rather than publisher lists.

Stephanie Jane said...

I love the sound of this novel! I hadn't heard of it before so thank you for sharing your review. I've added the book to my TBR today