Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review: González & Daughter Trucking Co

González & Daughter Trucking Co: A Road Novel with Literary License by Maria Amparo Escandon

I think this was a good book. From the reviews on Amazon (probably not the most reliable source!), I was expecting a fantastic book, so I was, unfortunately, a little under-whelmed. But it is pretty good.

The book is two intertwining stories: the story of life inside a Mexican Women’s prison and the story of Libertad González’s life, which she tells in installments for the weekly Library Club. There are many sad stories in this book, as you can imagine for a book set inside a prison, but the general air is of uplift and redemption. There’s not much about recidivism and, while there is violence, the high crime rate inside of most prisons is somewhat glossed over. The inmates here are generally focused on making their lives better. Most want to get out, though some, including Libertad, treat prison as a retreat from the outside world and ask to stay in. I think it is this light air to the book that means that, despite the heavy subject matter, González & Daughter is a pretty quick read.

A few of the descriptions I read of this book referred to it as magical realism. I’ve never been in prison (thank God), much less in Mexico, but the prison here is a bit fantastical. The entire book definitely has an air of fantasy and other-worldly-ness. That said, this, to me, isn’t magical realism. There are moments of magic (for example, there is a shaman who helps a woman get pregnant) but this isn’t One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, or even Like Water for Chocolate by Esquivel. González & Daughter is much more rooted in reality, and the actual fantastic things that happen seemed to be an aside, not essential to the story.

More than anything, I thought González & Daughter felt more like an outsider’s view of two very specialized worlds (the prison and truckers); like the unrealistic air was from lack of verisimilitude, not from an intentional choice. This is too bad, since I actually got the sense that the author did a lot of research. And maybe that’s the problem; it felt like an author who researched, for example, CB radio language and was intent on using it as much as possible, not like actual truckers speaking.

All that criticism aside, I liked this book. The concept is great: despite allusions to telenovelas and Scheherazade, it’s a really unique book. If you are a fan of other Latin authors, or are looking for an uplifting novel to read this holiday season, I would suggest you check González & Daughter out.

Buy González & Daughter Trucking Co on Amazon (or just read all the other much more positive reviews there. Clearly, I am in the minority for being so ambivalent about this one!)

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