Book Quote:

“It was awful, Fatima, like he was possessed or something. See, he has these delusions, on top of the temper. He thinks we’re gonna get millions of dollars from the government, and that everyone’s trying to keep him from collecting the money. And I’m all alborotada all the time fearing that he’s going to get arrested and lose his green card and we’ll all end up in some sad life in Colombia with no way back!”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (MAY 21, 2010)

As Try to Remember begins in 1968, Gabriella is fifteen years old, living with her father, mother and two younger brothers near Miami, Florida. They have come to the United States from Colombia and though her parents both hold green cards, Gabi is afraid that they will all have their cards confiscated and be sent back to their village in Colombia. Gabi’s fears stem mostly from the fact that her father behaves erratically and her brothers get into trouble in school.

They have a large extended family that helps them out. Gabi’s mother does piecework and part-time janitorial work. Gabi’s father harbors delusions that the government owes him millions of dollars. He is unable to hold down a job and he spends his days writing letters to government officials asking for his back pay. Somehow, he has confused the money he earned as an oil rig worker in Colombia with money he thinks he’s earned in the U.S. Gabi is the transcriber of these letters which are incomprehensible and delusional in quality.

It is obvious to Gabi that her father is very ill. The family, however, and especially Gabi’s mother, refuse to believe the extent of his illness. They refer to what is going on with him as “nerves.” Sometimes Gabi’s father rants and beats up Gabi’s brothers. They, in turn, are acting out by glue sniffing, oppositional behaviors and cutting school. Gabi appears to be the only mature one in the family. She tries to break through her mother’s denial about her father, but can not succeed.

After Gabi’s father severely beats up one of her brothers, her mother gets some dalmane (a sleeping pill) from a relative and starts grinding these pills into her husband’s morning orange juice. It seems to calm him down.

Gabi is coming of age in all this chaos. She is trying to individuate, make friends, understand the rituals of dating and daring to think what she might do with her life. It is the 1960’s, a time of experimentation, the beginning of feminism and the time when she is growing up. Her family expects her to finish high school and live at home afterwords. Should she have aspirations of attending college, she must commute.

Gabi meets people who hold different ideas than her family and they open her eyes to alternative possibilities. She thinks about leaving home for college, wishes that she had more time to spend outside the house and, mostly, wishes that her family was not so crazy.

I enjoyed reading about Gabi and her life. I empathized with her difficult life as a parental child and the only mature person in her family. However, I was somewhat disappointed with the way this book dealt with the serious and chronic mental illness of Gabi’s father. Dealing with serious and chronic mental illness is always difficult for families. At best, there are resources, support systems and medical assistance. Gabi’s family is poor, her mother in denial and they don’t know where to start. Additionally, there are cross-cultural differences to mental illness. In Latino families, a man’s role is very important. To undermine his role, by suggesting there is something wrong with him, is a very difficult action to take. It felt like Gabi’s mother’s denial was too strong, her resistance beyond reasonable. However, the book was more about Gabi’s experience of her family than what her family actually did or did not do.

This is a debut novel by a recognized poet who currently works as an immigration attorney. The author was born in Cartagena, Colombia and grew up in Miami, Florida. The addendum to the book states that this novel “draws on her personal experiences growing up as a Latina in Miami.”

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 15 readers
PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (May 5, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Reading Guide
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another coming of age story:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by  Junot Diaz



May 21, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Class - Race - Gender, Coming-of-Age, Florida, Latin American/Caribbean

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