Monday, September 28, 2009

Mayra Lazara Dole Gets Down To The Bone

Hispanic Heritage month goes until October 15th. In honour of the vast and deep tradition of Hispanic and Latino literature, I wanted to post about a wonderful novel I just finished reading: DOWN TO THE BONE, by Mayra Lazara Dole.

I am afraid I now have this lingering sadness -- the kind you get after leaving the warmth of the Caribbean to go back to February in the Northeast. Ms. Dole is the queen of setting. I felt like I lived there on that Miami strip with Papaya's and Cha Cha's restaurant and the smell of the sea and the sun burning the fog away. And the food! I was hungry the whole time I was reading!

In DOWN TO THE BONE, Dole explores issues of sexuality, gender, class, religion and spirituality, and family and community using a deft, but subtle touch. Laura, the Cuban-American protagonist, is immensely likable, and her best friend, Soli, is utterly adorable. I loved that Soli was not introduced like: HERE IS THE BLACK FRIEND. She was Soli, first. Then, through Dole's sensitive and quiet, but evocative descriptions, we get a full picture of Soli as an Afro-Latina. Likewise, with Gisela and Viva (I won't tell you who these characters are--you will have to read the book!).

I was quite impressed with Dole's stellar portrayal of the complexity of spirituality without ever becoming heavy-handed or didactic. There was the incident that got Laura kicked out of Catholic school (the teacher read a love letter to Laura from her girlfriend OUT LOUD TO THE WHOLE CLASS) and her mother's response to it (think: "immoral," "sinner," etc.); then there is the religion that best friend Soli's mother practices (metaphysical and all about love); and, of course, Laura's own views on how the world/god works (she refers to "Sacred Nature"). Such a wonderful way to weave in differing perspectives on religion and spirituality!

One thing, though: I am glad that I did not realize there was a glossary of terms in the back. That would have annoyed me from the beginning. I didn't find the Spanish words jarring in the least -- it would've been more jarring to stop the flow of words and flip to the back for a meaning every time there was a non-English word. I don't speak Spanish fluently, but I loved reading the rhythm of the words and saying them out loud when I was alone*.

DOWN TO THE BONE was a totally fun read, full of heart, angst, and love. Laura is beautifully flawed, tender, but tough, and you can't help but want her to find true love and live happily ever after. If you haven't read it already, get it here! And if you have, get it for a friend :).

*Yes, these are the things I do when I am alone.


MissA said...

I am currently reading (and loving) Down to the Bone! I am giving away my copy, but I'm going to buy myself my own copy just to have around and share!
I'm like you, I say the Spanish words (as well as big words) out loud when I'm by myself :)

Anonymous said...

I loved this book, and I love this review! I agree with everything that Ms Meminger writes- I couldn't stop reading "Down To The Bone", and I was very sad when it ended.

Zetta said...

I really liked how the author created a new kind of community that could step in when family failed...

Ilena said...

Estoy totalmente de acuerdo con la opinión tan positiva de Neesha Meminger sobre el libro “Down to the Bone”, Mayra Lazara Dole logro de una manera eficaz y sumamente elocuente tocar el corazón del lector…El libro nos introduce a una serie de eventos reales con los cuales nos podemos identificar plenamente (especialmente la comunidad latina), y lo hace de una forma sutil y a la vez divertida. Se los recomiendo!

Anonymous said...

thanks neesha for this beautiful review. i see that my facebook friend, ileana wrote a spanish reveiw. : ) that warms my heart. i can translate it for you if you want.
i will try again to send this note (have tried many times today to thank you here).

Neesha Meminger said...

I LOVE the comment in Spanish! I want to try to translate it myself ;). Glad you were able to comment. I am hounding them at Blogger to see what the issue could be. Ugh.

Doret said...

Down to the Bone is such a great book. I loved the comment in spanish as well. It was good practice for me.

gracias llena. Entiende cincuenta %

And I'd like to point out I only used the computer to spell check the spainsh words and I had them all right.


Color Online said...

Great review. Glad to hear I wasn't the only one hungry. Our diet is mostly vegetarian; I was thinking food when I wasn't laughing and nodding agreement.

You hit on the best points. Thanks, Neesha.

Colleen said...

I'm so glad you liked this one Neesha! Growing up in FL I was thrilled to see the Cuban culture (with all its over-the-topness) portrayed honestly here. It's a great coming-of-age story and I really loved this kid.

Hasija Vujovic said...

Hi Neesha,
I am currently reading Shine Cocoanut Moon, I love the book! Your mom brought me a copy today. Thank you for great read. Hashia

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