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American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  576 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
In her father’s Peruvian family, Marie Arana was taught to be a proper lady, yet in her mother’s American family she learned to shoot a gun, break a horse, and snap a chicken’s neck for dinner. Arana shuttled easily between these deeply separate cultures for years. But only when she immigrated with her family to the United States did she come to understand that she was a h ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 28th 2002 by Dial Press Trade Paperback (first published May 8th 2001)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Diane Barnes
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-2015
This is one of the best memoirs of a childhood that I've read. It's not only her story, but about her parent's mixed marriage and their struggle to make it work, her love and acceptance of both her countries, America and Peru, and her determination to bridge those gaps and become her own best self. Brilliantly written with humor and honesty and historical research, it's a great read for anyone who loves memoir.
LC Curtis
Feb 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
American Chica is not How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents nor is Marie Arana another Julia Alvarez. More’s the pity. That said, I’m an easy grader and mostly love to read anything that is not macabre, fantasy, or sci-fi. I find biculturalism and bilingualism irresistible topics and personally fascinating b/c of my own bicultural-bilingual experiences. So what in my humble opinion is not to like about American Chica? ¡Nada en absoluto!

I flew through the book devouring every detail and was to
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My wife had set this book aside after barely starting it, and out of curiosity, I picked it up. Then I could hardly put it down. You can read a summary elsewhere. Memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies are my favorite types of reading. But when you read a memoir that has all of the elements of a gripping novel--well, that's the best. This story of Marie Arana's childhood is like that. Parts seem so fantastic that they must be fiction or fantasy, but they really were part of her life. Since th ...more
Sep 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Margie by: Erik Pavlina
This memoir was filled with interesting stories, history, and poignant observations about the adventures and difficulties of having a mixed background. I was the first person in my family to be born in the U.S. Although both of my parents are from the same country, I identified greatly with the author's feeling of not belonging in either country, always an "other." In Colombia, I am a foreigner; in the U.S., I am a minority. I am too "Americanized" for my family, having adopted values of America ...more
Apr 15, 2015 rated it liked it
It is well written and thoughtful. I'm not sure its primarily memoir. Parts of it are clearly memoir. But great tracts of this are chapters of historical genealogy for her extended ancestry/ family and connective Peruvian history and politico. Far more than would define only her own self-identity and cultural nuance. It held delicate and exact moldings of her parents' personalities, their emotional style, their intellect, their talents and their influence upon their children. Those were the best ...more
Feb 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-books
I grew up in the inner suburbs of Washington , DC. with many bicultural friends. While I myself was not, I often wished I could fit seamlessly into two cultures (as I supposed my friends did). Marie Arana, born of a Peruvian father and an American mother, captures both the richness and the difficulties of being bicultural, and moving between two continents. She has written a gripping memoir that reads much like a novel, without ever being self-indulgent. Her writing style is detached, as if she ...more
Angela Smith
Dec 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The author writes about growing up in America and Peru and how she had to almost have a dual personality to adjust to the differences of the 2. I could relate, because I grew up traveling between 2 cultures as well, even though it wasn't as drastic as hers was. A really interesting book.
Aug 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
poetical and lyrical
fascinating history of peru
compelling narrative
complex family story and history
Rosie Delacruz
Jul 31, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Being Peruvian-born and American-raised, I was hoping to connect with Ms. Arana's memoir. However, there was something about her writing style that seemed to require the ingestion of hallucinatory drugs in order to understand what she was saying. I was expecting something a bit easier to digest. For now, the book has returned to the public library shelf.
michella cumpa barreto
Nov 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Una historia familiar, un amor unido por un puente.
May 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
(reposted from my blog)

This was a pure and simple impulse read. I happened to be scanning the biography section of the library, saw this book, read the back blurb and took it away with me.

American Chica is a wonderful read; Arana was trained as a journalist, and her beautifully detailed descriptions and carefully-chosen similes point out the many ways in which her parents' trans-continental marriage and her privileged upbringing in Peru, then the dramatic change to middle-class surroundings in t
Vamos a Leer
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Amongst many other things, Marie Arana, author of American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, is a brilliant storyteller. American Chica, her memoir, tells the story of a childhood, growing up with a Peruvian engineer and aristocrat for a father and an American musician as a mother. She begins with slowly discussing and dissecting her family structure: her perfect sister and her adventurous brother, her two parents who seem, at times, so different from each other, and her role. In the end, it’s n ...more
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Marie Arana writes an engaging memoir of her childhood growing up in her father's Peru and, later, her mother's United States. Life is a happy one for little "Marizi". She comes from an old, affluent family of European descent which includes a house full of servants and every privilege granted to a family of status. A typical child, Marizi is very fond of role playing, drama, getting into mischief and learning a thing or two from the servants.

Life centers around her mother and father--the dashi
Dana Nucera
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a great little memoir. Arana does a great job of discribing her childhoood as if it happened yesterday. The history of Peru is very interesing. I would have liked more detail about America. The cultural details are fascinating. A good read.
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
It's autobiography, so in a sense you're stuck -- her life was what it was. I would have liked a slightly different emphasis. Most of her attention was given to her time in Peru, in Cartavo and Lima, and then an extended visit to her mother's family in Wyoming. The time after she returned to USA just was given a few pages at the end -- sort of a "oh, I became an American girl, but kept some of the Peruvian stuff too". I was left thinking that somehow it was a little more complicated than that. A ...more
Though Marie Arana is Peruvian, not Chilean, her writing style really reminded me a lot of Isabel Allende's. American Chica is a memoir, but it's not a straightforward memoir; she meanders between her own experiences and investigating her family. A big focus of American Chica is Arana's identity. Her father is a Peruvian, and here mother an American, and she's not sure whether she's South American or a "gringa." Through different phases of her life, she alternates between the two. In Peru, she's ...more
Jenny Yates
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this memoir. The author looks with humorous detachment at herself, the result of a tricky union between a man from Peru and a woman from the US. Arana’s mother lived in Peru for years, but was never all that comfortable there, and her father was woefully homesick whenever he lived away from his homeland. They were more attached to their own cultures than to each other, but still they managed to raise three children together.

Arana, the youngest, saw herself as a hybrid early on. S
Oct 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Well written recounting of her confusion and difficulties as the offspring of a tempestuous marriage of a Peruvian father and American mother. Both families have something to hide. Each parent's difficulty in adjusting to or understanding the culture and expectations of the other results in lurches back and forth between the refined traditions of Peruvian family life and the rude practicality of the American West. Arana effectively brings in the mysticism and superstitions of the Peruvian experi ...more
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
first person POV

Marie, the youngest of three children, was born around 1949 (she never really tells us her birth date). Her Peruvian father went to MIT to get a master's in engineering during WWII and met his future wife there. The kids grew up in Peru as part of a large extended family while her father worked for a big American company there. Around the time she was 10 her mother had enough and they moved to New Jersey. Where her mother had "wilted" in Peru she thrived back in the U.S. Bu
Abraham Yoo
I think this book can be considered valuable nonfiction book to read. While I was reading, I found myself sharing the experiences living in United States with the author since I have been shared two cultural aspects like what she did. The book tells how the author struggles to fit herself into societies. I liked how she struggles; she tries to understand her family's root. I think she could move forward since she committed to face the truth. One thing that I had trouble with this book was the fa ...more
Jun 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
-This was a book that I got for class but then was never required to read due to the teacher being sick for a few days.
-That also being said, I never really gravitated towards this kind of book. The modern fiction kind if you will.

This book was extremely interesting and I felt expanded my idea of what it means to be a Latin American turning state side and often goes between these two worlds. I also felt it shattered a few misconceptions I had about the culture and then after shatter
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was on my to-read list, and then I saw it in a box by the curb while taking the pups for a walk around the neighborhood. Yea. Beautifully written, set in the context of the political, cultural, and personal aspects of bridging (her concluding central image) two very disparate cultural identities, this memoir hits all of the sweet spots for an excellent read and a profound exploration. I, too, "bridge" two cultures, and while my memory isn't as keen as Arana's, and my childhood was not ...more
Nov 14, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoir
I didn't like American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, although it was critically acclaimed. For one, I take issue with a book being labeled a memoir when it has incredibly detailed accounts of events that happened when the author was four years old. When I was four, my preschool took a field trip to a dairy farm and we sat in a circle and drank chocolate milk. That's all I remember about being four. Secondly, nothing that happened in the author's childhood was interesting enough to justify wr ...more
Feb 26, 2009 rated it liked it
I found this book in the book room at school when I was looking for some non-fiction to read. I'm fascinated by South American (I'd love to travel there someday), so I brought the book home to read. I mostly read American Chica before bed, but it really isn't a before bed kind of book. I think the book got short shrift from me due to this. Plus it got put down for a while when I got into the Twilight series. Still, I found Marie Arana's expriences of growing up in two cultures an interesting rea ...more
Entertaining memoir about the author's childhood, her family and her confusion over her bicultural identity. Her mother is an American, descended from the Adams family, and her father from an upper class Peruvian family. Arana spent her early years in Peru before moving to the U.S. The book not only describes her family history, her parents marriage, living in Peru during the political turmoil after World War II, and her immigration to the U.S., but also is filled with anecdotes of her escapades ...more
Nancy Hartney
Aug 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Moving from one country to another is never easy. Living between two cultures is even more difficult. Arana's description of her time in Peru and in the U.S. is poetic and moving. I initially picked this book up solely for the language but found myself entralled by the story of a young woman coming of age and growing into her roots. I'd recommend this for children of bi-racial parents as well as for those considering crossing cultures.
Jul 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
wow, this book helped me gain some serious insight into my own relationship, and some of the "in-law" disconnects. there were definitely some scary "ah ha!" type of moments. but it definitely helps you appreciate the cultural gaps between our country and some others, without necessarily advocating one way vs. the other. it also helped prepare me for the potential reality i could face should i choose to (one very very very far off day) raise children abroad.
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
The author's story of growing up in Peru with her Peruvian father and American mother and the advantages (but mostly) complications of living in two vastly different worlds. Although Arana spends a needed amount of time on her parents' turbulent marriage, her real focus is the way cultures define, limit and enrich us.
I enjoyed the author's rich descriptions of her countries, and her extended family and was pleasantly surprised when the book did not end as I anticipated it would.
Jul 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
Figuring out who you are is hard enough for someone who grows up from a conventional childhood. Arana is trying to make sense of Peruvian animism, Wyoming cowboys, New York privilege, Catholicism, engineering, prejudice, ballet, death, secrets, language, navels. That she manages to integrate it all is evidence for the theory that genetic crosses make stronger descendants, or maybe that it takes a lot of talent and education to build a lasting bridge.
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She was born in Peru, moved to the United States at the age of 9, did her B.A. in Russian at Northwestern University, her M.A. in linguistics at Hong Kong University, a certificate of scholarship at Yale University in China, and began her career in book publishing, where she was vice president and senior editor at Harcourt Brace and Simon & Schuster. For more than a decade she was the editor i ...more
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