Saturday, May 12, 2012

Books for breakfast

My Hollywood, by Mona Simpson

I thought Claire was tedious, petty, and so completely boring. But playing this character off Lola (yes, 'lola', in Filipino, 'grandmother'--not Low-lah, though the non-Filipino characters would have pronounced it that way) made for an interesting and poignant (toward the end) book. I appreciate that it was, at all, written.

I did have trouble with time shifts, especially in the first half or so--but maybe this was because the point was to make Claire seem sort of unhinged by everything?

In spite of running the text through 'Elma Dayrit' (to whom the book is dedicated) and 'Denise Cruz', the diction of Lola and the other Fil-Ams was pretty uneven in parts--early on, Lola actually waxes poetic (too obviously the author's hand), when in parts, she sounded like a Chinese amah. Also, Lola was supposedly from a really well educated family (which lost its money some-when) but her grammar and syntax (particularly in the beginning of "Lola" chapters) indicated someone from a less affluent background (but by the middle of the chapter, the diction changes yet again, supported by words, grammar, and syntax that are more mainstream, less "immigrant". Even as someone thinks that "the greatest innovation" of this novel is Lola's "invented...patois" (here--except for this, I agree with most of the points in this review) I agree with this other reviewer that this "invention" comes off as patronizing. (Note to would-be authors: Doing a Junot Diaz is a tough challenge--particularly if you're drawing up a character who is not of your own ethnicity. Attempt at your own risk.)

Is it unfair to demand this type of authenticity? It feels like this is a minor quibble. Because the feel of the rest of the text--the sense of relationship between employer and employee, the interior lives of Claire and Lola, these do feel authentic, and by the last third of the text, I find myself weeping in parts. I do have a feeling that Simpson had done the best research she could, and was ultimately truthful. It seemed to me that the project was one that aimed to create connections and understanding between two cultures (one, if you read this as an American novel) and I think it succeeded.

I wonder what Oscar Campomanes thinks/would think about this novel. ;)

Other reviews that put this novel squarely in the category of "nanny fiction"--yes, apparently it's pretty big over there-- here and here.

There's a preview on Scribd. Dead-tree version available at Powerbooks Megamall.

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