Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Read this Book!

“Without my parents here, it was a place of broken beauty.”—Reyna Grande The Distance Between Us: A Memoir

I came across TheDistance Between Us: A Memoir, by Reyna Grande, because I thought it might be a good choice for students in my community college reading classroom. Thus, upon opening it I sighed a bit, scanning its pages with a sense of duty and the weight of a teacher's analytical equipment.

Moments later, however, Grande's deceptively simple book broke through all that and started speaking directly to my heart. In fact, I spent its last forty pages in tears, followed by hours of reflection and mourning, trying to integrate all her book allowed me to see.

I learned how Grande’s parents’ decision to emigrate from Mexico affected the children they left at home. It helped me see immigration as part of a larger economic pattern and better understand its effect on both Mexican and US culture.

In this book, Grande is rigorously honest, reflecting a child's eye view in its early pages and in its latter ones an adult's courageous, and more nuanced, perspective of familial love and longing.

The Distance Between Us: A Memoir is about class, and the complexities of class, capturing what it feels like to be economically impoverished and the slender borders between poor and even poorer. This is an area rarely reflected in American prose, especially from the point of view of someone who has lived it this directly.

Once opened, The Distance Between Us: A Memoir, is nearly impossible to put down because Grande is very adept and harnessing narrative force. Her short chapters generally focus on small images and details that unfold onto larger truths. The images multiply over the course of several chapters in a manner that at first feels like a kaleidoscope. Only later do these images begin to form an ordered picture of an entire economic phenomenon, one that includes family violence, trauma, and abandonment as well as the power of education and the difficulties far too many have in accessing it.

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