I am pretty familiar with Ana Castillo's writing. I have read both "So Far from God" and "The Mixquiahuala Letters" - my GoodReads claims - and I alsoI am pretty familiar with Ana Castillo's writing. I have read both "So Far from God" and "The Mixquiahuala Letters" - my GoodReads claims - and I also gave 4 stars to both of them. Hmm. The problem is: I do not remember either of them. Blank brain pages is what I see when I try to conjure up anything about both books. And that is WHY I recently started writing reviews, so I can remember a little better what I spend hours and hours of my life on.
Anyway. The main character in "Peel my Love Like an Onion", Carmen, is a flamenco dancer despite being handicapped (due to suffering, as a child, from polio that was treated too late). In the novel we meet her shortly after she decides to end her dancing career: her body tormented by polio that seems to be returning as she is nearing forty and her soul discouraged by both: a recently finished long-time relationship as well as a failed, intense affair.
Now that she doesn't do dancing gigs with her group anymore, something she lived for and loved, she takes on a menial job in food services and obsesses over her past two relationships. This is partially where most of my liking for this novel comes from - I applaud its illustration of a WORKING class. Of people doing these INVISIBLE jobs. You know, like a salesperson, or a fast food restaurant server? It is always astonishing to me how many characters in all sorts of novels have these whimsical jobs, preferably freelancing and well-paid, because you sure cannot move a plot with a character who comes back after 8 hours (usually more like 12) of disheartening work to sit down and watch TV because they have no strength to do anything else. Or can you ?
This is probably why I like reading novels by immigrants or by direct descendants of immigrants, there happen to be many more characters who actually have to make a living in the roughest of possible ways, and barely so. Similarly here. And even when she was dancing, Carmen is still describing her overall poverty, surrounding herself with pretty objects obtained at Salvation Army, occasionally not having money for a square meal etc. It's genuine.
The entire novel is such - honest. I really appreciate Castillo's style. I am pretty familiar with her poetry, which seems to have engraved in my memory much better than her novels, and the manner of creating her novel world feeds a lot on her poetry's simplicity an acuteness. I also appreciated the characters, even though they are not particularly likable - I certainly wouldn't give an ol' rat's whisker for the two main male characters (no valen un comino! Spanish 101, not really). I did not, however, find the cultural discussions (the mentioned male characters are gypsies) particularly compelling, perhaps it's because these guys were just idiots and when you're an idiot it hardly matters what your ethnicity is.
I also feel rather lukewarm about the ending, which I am not going to disclose, okay? I am not a criminal. I will just mysteriously say that it seemed rather... fake-ish. A bit "is it a fairly tale or is it just fabulously forced?" kind of an ending.
SO! I will definitely read more Castillo, probably her essays, which are hiding somewhere on one of my shelves, but it will not be anytime soon....more