Book Review | The Bolero of Andi Rowe : Stories
Here, again, are stories of cultures meeting, sharing experiences, and discovering the links they have in common. The Bolero of Andi Rowe is a cultural read that shares immigrant experiences between the Mexican culture and the Irish culture, American stories too often omitted.
“Drawn against a Los Angeles landscape and crossing generations and borders, this debut collection of interrelated stories delves into the world of Andi Rowe – a young woman of Mexican and Irish heritage – to give an intimate account of one family’s passage from the immigrant story to the American story and the cycle of loss, adaptation, and rediscovery that is innate to that experience.” ~Curbstone Books
The collection begins with Yard Work, a story that takes me back to my young adult days when I travelled back home for the holidays. Acclimating back into the world of my youth, where old habits instinctively reemerged and blended with newfound habits. One amusing memory is parking my truck in mama’s driveway to wash. However, now I washed while listening to the new CD I’d added to my sparse collection, Fleetwood Mac! Wow, was I ever exerting a new identity of an American college student, independent, and trying out new things. It seems silly now, yet big gambles then, when lighting up a cigarrete after finishing the chore.
Later in Forces, Andi Rowe reminisces about her return to South El Monte from her college studies in New York. Andi evokes a nostalgic feeling of home, the sense that nothing changes here, at times a critical judgment, yet more often, a comforting and secure thought.
“…she liked coming back during her vacations. It felt like old times here, like nothing ever changed. And it didn’t need to. All you needed was to be able to play.”
Just as comforting, the blending of cultures. The ability to join two diverse worlds, making both one’s own. A struggle between conflicting identities, that is until one realizes the advantages of a cultural union. Genuinely exciting.
“The music alternated between classic rock and ranchera. Robert Plant’s wail and accordion music equally suited the place.”
However, it takes time to appreciate these differences. Time to experience the good in diverse worlds and embrace them as one. Time to absorb the cultures, share in the experiences, and actively live a cultural union. Individual effort, nevertheless, is essential. In Happy Hour, we meet Andi’s father, Tony, from an Irish family, aware of the differences in cultures and intrigued by the other, however, finding it challenging to make both his own. As he explains to Andi’s sister, Maura, “Mexicans are much freer about their feelings. Not like white people. But you and Andi, you’ve got the best of both worlds.” Of which Maura thoughtfully considers, smiles and keeps to herself, “I don’t say it’s always been just the one world split.”
It is not surprising in Olivia’s Roses to encounter another that feels that love can be the solution to all ills, to all difficulties. As a sensual person, I can relate to Olivia, Andi’s mother, and her feeling and belief that all would be different, rules would cease to exist, and nothing would be insurmountable once “love was nearby.”
“It was the feeling that love was nearby, an invisible force field. And if she could only find it, it would lead her to another world. A world where girls glowed and sighed and wept. Where girls could act foolishly, even meanly, ignoring family obligations and moral codes. Where they could scream at the top of their lungs and be forgiven everything. Olivia dreamed of living in that world, and as far as she could tell, falling in love was the only way to get there.”
Culture, as with customs and traditions, comes out of need and creates new habits. In the beginning it takes effort and conscious consideration to yield long-lasting and enjoyable experiences. The creator needs the “confidence born out of necessity” to instill in her family, her community, and her culture a new identity through a novel experience. “Shame was a luxury they could not afford.” Indeed it is.
Toni Margarita Plummer
Pub: Curbstone Books | Northwestern University Press
Pub Date: June 2011
$13.47 USD | Paperback