After Elizabeth’s mother died, she became a little obsessed with death. Her Barbies had elaborate funeral processions, and she became the go to girl when a beloved pet needed a proper send-off. Teenage Elizabeth could often be found relaxing in the cemetery or funeral crashing.
She was in seventh-heaven when she landed a gig as a graveyard caretaker in college. She moved up to the big leagues as an assistant director at a funeral home chain and bought her first hearse she christened Lucrezia. Dealing with the recently departed and their loved ones wasn’t the place she expected to find love, but there it was, in the form of the cremator who worked in the basement.
The two madcap undertakers took a leap of faith when Elizabeth opened her own eco-friendly funeral home in what was formerly a goat barn in the middle of someplace or other. You’ll adore Elizabeth’s look back at how she developed her green funeral options, despaired at the leaky roof, and gave birth to a fairy child who could talk to the dead, named after the Catholic Patron Saint of Widows and Widowers.
The concept of death has become so sterilized over time that we’ve forgotten how to approach death with respect and awe. We’ve also lost our sense of self, as part of the larger whole. After all, “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19 KJV) The author candidly shares the struggles she overcame to bring to life her vision of a proper service and burial unique to each grieving family. You’ll laugh, roll your eyes, and shed a few tears as you read this amazing memoir, The Green Reaper: Memoirs of an Eco-mortician.
Intoxicating Tango: My Years in Buenos Aires by Cherie Magnus was a captivating read from the very first page. The author used such vivid descriptions to describe her South American expat life that I could picture the chaotic streets and smokey rooms perfectly. Tango is the perfect metaphor for living abroad, really. The seduction, the nuances, the rhythm, the surrender and finally the disillusionment are the stages most expats go through.
In June 2014, Cherie Magnus stepped off a plane with a few suitcases to begin her life in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This third installment of the author’s life covers those 10 memorable years in the birthplace of the tango. She tells us how she infiltrated the dance halls of milonguero, mastered the miradas, and tangoed her heart away. What an amazing story!
Although not particularly familiar with the steps of the tango, the author made it come alive in my mind. So don’t let not knowing how to tango keep you from finding pleasure in Ms. Magnus’s accounts as she chronicles the trials and tribulations of learning how to manage in a foreign country.
You don’t have to be well-versed in South American language or culture either to enjoy this particular story. A glossary of Argentine terms was included at the end, which certainly helped on some words that aren’t used in the Spanish speaking country I live in. Mostly though, the Spanish terms were easily understood in the narrative.
I found no typos or spelling errors, although there was that strange twist of fate (or perhaps lapse in editing) that turned Ramon, the Latin lover, into Ruben briefly in chapter 23. The languorous tone that most of the story was told in changed towards the end into more of an anxious and hurried summary of events. I’m not sure if it was deliberate or an unconscious shift mirroring how the events unfolded, but all in all, that was perhaps my only complaint about this fascinating memoir.
An American Journey: Culiacan to Redwood City is the personal memoir of Salomon Quintero. Mr. Quintero led a fascinating life. He met Cesar Chavez, participated in protests, spent some time in jail because of his participation, had several simultaneous romantic relationships before finding the love of his life, had a successful law career, and finally retired to find inner peace.
No less fascinating were the lives of his parents and grandparents. Salomon’s great-grandfather was born in Mexico when Benito Juarez was president. His grandfather died during the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1918, leaving a young pregnant wife behind. His father, Antonio, played football with Kenny Washington and went to Mexico to live for a while in the 1940s to avoid the draft where he met and married Beatriz from Culiacan.
After a failed business venture, Antonio decided to head back to the U.S. to look for work. He was detained at the border and forced to enlist. Beatriz smuggled her infant son across the border under her coat and registered him several months later in the U.S. Subsequent children were born in the U.S. and had a fairly typical American upbringing.
Mr. Quintero shares the trauma his father endured as a soldier stationed in the Philippines. He also chronicles the ongoing family house expansion over the years. He mentions fascinating characters that were part of his life growing up but doesn’t follow up on their lives or talk about how their presence otherwise influenced his childhood.
I was slightly disappointed with the erratic flow of the book. Chapters seem to be organized around different themes rather than chronologically, which made it difficult to keep track of how the story pieces fit together and who the characters were at any given point in the story.
Then there were odd tidbits that I would think a little research would have cleared up. For instance, Mr. Quintero mentions that Claire, a Jewish girl from New York, might have been married to his father. Shouldn’t there be records on that? He alludes to the fact that his newly married parents experienced hardships that remained family secrets as long as his mother lived, but doesn’t specify what those hardships might have been. In for a penny, in for a pound Mr. Quintero.
There were historical references and certain terms that could have been clarified for readers.
Mr. Quintero mentions that the cost of coyotes is exorbitant but doesn’t explain that he is referring to human smugglers, not the animal. This term and process could have been expanded on when he talks about how his mother smuggled her son across the border. Or when he talked about his family moving from the Cananea Copper Mines to take employment at the Copper Queen Mine, probably with the intervention of a labor-brokerage coyote.
Mr. Quintero tells us briefly that his grandfather worked at the Cananea Copper Mines but doesn’t include the information that during that time period a violently oppressed labor strike at the mines was one of the factors leading the Mexican Revolution.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading An American Journey: Culiacan to Redwood City. I did. In fact, I enjoyed reading it so much, that I wanted more, more clarification, more details, more organization, more historical references. I felt at times I was getting the cliff notes version of Mr. Quintero’s full and rich family history. I expect that since some of Mr. Quintero’s family is still alive, there may have been things he preferred not to dredge up. Be that as it may, I still found an engaging read.