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VENEZUELA: Doña Inés > As You Read - Thoughts on Doña Inés vs. Oblivion

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message 1: by Cait (new)

Cait | 150 comments Mod
What are you thinking as you read Doña Inés?

message 2: by Claire (new)

Claire | 96 comments Content warning: Narrator is extremely racist.

message 3: by Cait (new)

Cait | 150 comments Mod
YUP. Super racist.

I found the book pretty hard to get into initially, both because of the racism and because of the looooooooong sentences and the crazy-dead-lady narration style. But apparently I've adapted, because I'm half-way in now and invested, even though I have no idea where it's going!

message 4: by Claire (new)

Claire | 96 comments I've been struggling with this book and I'm still not finished. While I try to be open to reading other perspectives, the racism and brutality is a bit over the top for me. Beyond the fact I really can't relate at all to the narrator, I think the intergenerational format makes it tough to read since as soon as you get to know a character they disappear. I haven't found a character to latch on to. I think this format can be quite tricky and a book like Pachinko made it work, but here I don't think it's done in an engaging way. That being said, I think this book is useful for getting a sense of Venezuelan history, and for that reason I will keep trying to finish to the end.

Also: I was thinking about how there would likely be pushback against publishing a book like this in the US. The fact it's so celebrated in South America suggests some cultural differences with regards to "political correctness." (Side note: I usually avoid using that phrase because of its negative connotation; my own view is that it's generally a good thing that people are getting more aware of the nuances of hurtful prejudices and biases. So apply something like that phrase but without the bad connotation.)

message 5: by Becki (new)

Becki Iverson | 81 comments I agree with the above. I had to skim read this to the end to see where it went but I really couldn’t engage. I think it’s because it was never made clear whether the character or the book itself was racist; if the author was trying to make a point, she did it very poorly. I did appreciate the more global sense I got of the arc of Venezuelan colonialism and the factions that led to their current situation, but it just didn’t engage me well at all. The structure reminded me of Homegoing, which I SO enjoyed, and which also tackled tough subjects like slavery, but did it in a way that directly acknowledged the cause and effects and didn’t try to align you in favor of it. After reading I’m a bit baffled by the reviews this got. Overall I didn’t think this was a successful book and I wouldn’t return to it. Bummer that we were all so unengaged, I was really excited for Venezuela!

message 6: by Cait (new)

Cait | 150 comments Mod
Two things got me through this book: the arc of Venezuelan history that you both mention above, which was genuinely interesting since I know basically nothing about it, and the fact that the semi-dementia-ridden ghost narrative was *so* hard to follow that I actually was somehow more engaged just trying to figure out who the hell she was talking to/about at any point. I actually did want to know how it ended, I'm a real sucker for generational dramas, even apparently when they're poorly done.

However... racism. I know I read in a review (of another book) at one point that it's one thing to have a racist (sexist, etc.) character in a book, and another thing for that character to put forth those views without being questioned on them. I think the author does try to put in some of that questioning - for instance, when we see the alternating views between her missing Juan del Rosario after he dies; when we see her acknowledge, after watching the bordello, that the only thing she could think to do with Juan del Rosario's mother was lock her up (instead of blame her husband for *raping* his slave...); and then towards the end when she says the only reason she did her long, unending, horrible lawsuit was 'she didn't know how to negotiate'. However, that wasn't enough. It's also frustrating because I get some of the 'everyone is a part of the time they lived' and obviously, she lived at a time when owning slaves was 'ok' - except that, at every time that owning slaves was 'ok,' there were *also* people who knew that it *wasn't* ok. There were people during Dona Ines' time that were less terrible. And also, such an easy way to truly question the narrator's racism within the book would be just to have her descendants be like... an old plantation? That we kept in legal battles to keep from slaves that were related to us? *insert moral questioning of entire reality here.* There's also the fact that I think the author did do some questioning of the misogynistic beliefs of the narrator that was far more effective (e.g. her repeated 'but you never let me leave the neighborhood' motif with her husband), which really makes me think this book is just racist.

Like Becki, I don't think we have to like characters for it to be a good book, but I also don't think we need to spend time humanizing the abusers while ignoring the victims.

message 7: by Claire (new)

Claire | 96 comments I was still holding out hope somehow that there would be some reckoning at the end for Dona Ines' reprehensible views and behaviors, but based on your comments it sounds like this is expecting too much. I completely agree that it's one thing to have racist/sexist/etc. characters (as exist in reality) and quite another to leave those views completely unchallenged.

message 8: by Cait (new)

Cait | 150 comments Mod
I would say that she starts to think slightly different in terms of gender, but never thinks 'hey I was wrong to enslave black people'. So no reckoning or redemption there.

message 9: by Becki (new)

Becki Iverson | 81 comments Yeah I agree with all of that Cait. I hung through hoping there'd be a resolution by the end but there just wasn't. I think saying "that's just how it was back then" is a cheap and sloppy way to excuse harmful narratives, especially since this is true fiction - she could literally have written about anything in the world, and this subject and doing it this way is what the author chose? No thanks.

message 10: by Cait (new)

Cait | 150 comments Mod
Maybe the author should have read How Europe Underdeveloped Africa!

message 11: by Becki (new)

Becki Iverson | 81 comments YES! LOL

message 12: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Bull | 18 comments Hey y’all - thanks to those who slogged through this one. I appreciated reading your comments and perspectives. I was trying to read this while attending an intensive weekend of workshops on refugees, torture, and anti-racism work. Which was all really good and really hard. But I just could not handle reading something super racist at the same time. It was so jarring! I think I have to give up on finishing it, but I am really happy that we do the polls, because now I have a ready-made list of other books from Venezuela to tackle.

message 13: by Becki (new)

Becki Iverson | 81 comments I hear you Sylvia! I barely "finished" it - really more like skimmed the last half for the major plot points. It just rose something in me that I couldn't get over, really disappointed with the tone of the book. I can't imagine reading it in your situation, that's too tough! But agree about the polls, I definitely added a few others from Venezuela that I'm excited to try.

message 14: by Cait (new)

Cait | 150 comments Mod
Doña Bárbara is on PBS's 'The Great American Read' list that they're doing this summer/fall, I think I'm going to try that one out.

message 15: by Claire (new)

Claire | 96 comments I was also unable to finish this one (first book in my "dnf" shelf on Goodreads). I'll also try reading a different Venezuelan book eventually, although I'm a bit swamped at the moment!

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