Friday, August 17, 2007

Once Upon A Quinceanera--Julia Alvarez

So how did I come to buy this hardcover and read it? Blame my family. I went to NJ last weekend, and by coincidence the Texas contingent was in town for a wedding, and Sunday morning found us over at the Windsor Diner talking about weddings and other insanity, and this book was mentioned. Probably by me. No, certainly by me. And one thing lead to another, and I was in a bookstore that afternoon and it was purchased. You can get people to buy and read all sorts of books if only you get the idea on front of them. Oh, and deprive them of the computer too.

Anyway, so Julia Alvarez spent a year researching the modern day insanity of the quinceanera, the "traditional" ceremony in which a Hispanic girl celebrates her 15th birthday and sort of symbolically becomes an adult and/or marriageable. Here's the thing--the quinceanera or "quince" is on the cusp of hitting the mainstream/crossing over to Middle America as a ritual for various reasons stemming from the rise of the Hispanic culture, the lack of such formal rituals in the US, television mega party coverage and shopping culture.

Alvarez makes a lot of good socio-cultural points in this book and she does a good job of outlining and linking concepts like consumption, cultural mores surrounding money, tradition, class, immigration and assimilation, telegraphed messages of sexuality and melding of different cultures. The problem is that she crosses this sociological study with a memoir about her coming to America in late childhood and how she tried to find her way into adulthood. But then, it's a pretty slight book-she's got maybe 175 pages tops about quinces, and she needed to pad it out. It's all pretty interesting though, but I prefer the bits on the quinces and wish she'd pressed her subjects harder and dug up more detail. Because as she describes it, the whole quince thing is just fuzzy--even the people paying thousands of dollars for the celebration and the girls going through it can't really pinpoint what it all means, either individually or to the larger group. Alvarez has a lively style--her fiction writing chops show through--and it's a quick, interesting read.

So this book next goes to my mom, my Aunt Mary Jane, and then hopefully down to Texas to my other aunt and cousin. Anyone else want to read it? I paid full price for it and I feel everyone should get a chance at it. And by the way Genevieve, you will be happy to know that I pulled out the personal library kit you gave me a while back to record this book's journey.

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