Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Several months ago, friend and longtime (35 years!) regular visitor to Oaxaca, Charles Kerns, asked me to write a review of his first work of fiction, Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca.

Cover of book, "Santo Gordo" by Charles Kerns

He sent it to me in June, when I was up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it proved to be the perfect reading material for my SFO –> IAH –> OAX return trip.  Once back, I mentioned Santo Gordo to friends, loaned it, got it back, only to loan it again.  With Santo Gordo again in my hot little hands and after many months of delay, today I finally posted the following review on Amazon.com.

A botana of Oaxaca

Much as it has done to Charles Kerns, Oaxaca has captured my heart and three years ago I began living an expat life there. Thus, I can assure you reading Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca, will give you a botana (a small snack) of life in Oaxaca as seen and experienced by a gringo — well, not the witnessing an assassination part!

However, first time mystery writer Kerns does offer a glimpse at an underbelly few tourists are ever aware of and many expats choose to ignore – it’s history, complexity, and expression being too much to comprehend.

Kerns has crafted a mystery where place, in this case Oaxaca, is a leading character — much as Donna Leon, with her Commissario Brunetti mysteries, has done with Venice. Kerns has captured rhythms, rituals, sweetness, dangers (treacherous sidewalks, not murders, being at the top of the list), and bewildering aspects of life in Oaxaca, all the while telling a plausible tale with a very likable main character.

Now that the review has, at long last, been written, my copy of Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca, will be donated to the Oaxaca Lending Library — as I promised Chuck many months ago.  Sorry I kept you waiting and ¡Feliz cumpleaños mi amigo!

(ps)  Check out the San Jose Mercury News interview with Chuck, Alameda writer pens Oaxaca mystery.

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My Spanish language abilities are progressing little by little (poco a poco).  However, one thing my wonderful and extremely patient Spanish teacher, Laura Olachea, has neglected to cover is Madre-isms; those too numerous to count and unique to Mexican Spanish, expressions that the mamas, hijas, and hermanas for the most part never use, at least not in mixed or polite company.

Of course, being that one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know, I was oblivious!  Oblivious, that is, until I read Norma Hawthorne’s review of the new book, Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, by Liza Bakewell.  Intrigued, I purchased the book when I was in el norte in June and immediately plunged in.

Cover of book, Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, by Liza Bakewell

In July, while I was immersed in the “madre” minefield, Liza arrived in Oaxaca for some much-needed R & R, to write an article or two, and to promote her book.  I had the pleasure of getting to know her (she’s warm, smart, and funny), eat one of Aurora’s (you will meet her in the book) empanadas, and assist with setting up a couple of speaking engagements.  The first, in English, was at the Oaxaca Lending Library, where the audience was overwhelmingly women and, as expected, mostly gringas.  There was much surprise and laughter as Liza read excerpts from the book, expanded on points, and answered numerous questions.

Liza Bakewell at the Oaxaca Lending Library showing her book, Madre...

The second speaking engagement, the following evening, was at the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO) and was conducted all in Spanish.  And here, surrounded by the Rini Templeton exhibit, I looked around and noticed the majority of people attending were Mexican men.  However, like Guillermo Fricke, Director of IAGO, people listened closely, occasionally chuckled knowingly, and stayed to ask questions and make respectful and thoughtful comments.

Guillermo Fricke listening to the talk by Liza Bakewell at IAGO

It was a much more reserved gathering than the day before, but no less attentive and appreciative.  And, reflecting on previous events and observations and now reading Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz, I’m coming to understand, except for fiestas, that is the Mexican way.  Though, I wonder, if it had been all Mexican women in attendance, would it have been different?  I think so.  There is something about the bond women share that crosses boundaries and cultures….

However, thanks to Liza, at least while in Mexico, I may never utter the word, madre, again!

(ps)  If your local library doesn’t have Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, ask them to order it!

(pps)  Another insightful review of Madre has just appeared on GlobetrotterGirls.com

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