Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite - Guadalupe Garcia McCall Beautiful absolutely beautiful. Under the Mesquite is a story about a young girl growing up to adulthood. It is a story about saying good-bye and about the loss of a loved one so integral to one’s life that it is impossible to imagine life without them. Under the Mesquite is about a family’s journey across the border of one country and into another country and how people make cultural adjustments and acclimate to a new home. And, this story is about going home and how going home can help us figure out how to move forward. Despite the numerous threads of storylines and themes running through this book, it is a short book, written in verse and readable in a few hours. Do not let the style of the book – verse – turn you off from reading this. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of poetry; I just can’t attach myself to the words of poetry in the same way I can a story. But this story is different. I immediately became emotionally involved in this story. The topic of meshing cultures and the journey of emigration is a difficult tale to write. Inevitably, multiple languages must be woven together to write the story; descriptions of cultural rituals – such as cooking – must be described. And it takes a very special author to write these day to day things in a way that is authentic in both the language of the originating country (in this case Mexico) and the language of the new home (USA) and is authentic culturally. Ms. Guadalupe Garcia McCall does this so very well; it is obvious that she has experienced this. Many authors try to make their story appear to contain a bilingual character and to do so, the author translates the occasional word in to, say Spanish. But from my experience, many authors who have not experienced the cross cultural reality – they translate the wrong word in to Spanish, putting emphasis where there never was. Or the author may describe a cultural habit that just does not take place. Ms. McCall never makes these mistakes; she uses Spanish in her English novel in a very authentic way but she also makes it accessible for her English only speakers, for example: “Look at my beautiful, talented muchachita,” she keeps telling Papi.”“As the latest episode of her favorite telenovela unfolds, the soap opera drawing her in, the skins from the potatoes she is peeling drop into her apron like old maple leaves.”“Eyes shimmering, I am a ratoncita, a sly little mouse.”And to aid her readers, the author includes a glossary of Spanish terms and cultural references at the back of her book. On the topic of maturing, the main character is conflicted. She is already the oldest child in a house of 8 kids and has quite a few responsibilities but she is not ready to grow up:“But for me, señorita means melancolia; setting into sadness. It is the end of wild laughter. The end of chewing bubble gum and giggling over nothing with my friends at the movies, our feet up on the backs of theater seats …. Señorita is a niña, the girl I used to be, who has lost her voice.”Ms. McCall writes very effectively the pull of adulthood and the sadness in leaving childhood behind. As I write this I think of my own oldest daughter and how conflicted she is about growing up. McCall captures it perfectly. Because, the main storyline is the young girl interacting with her beloved family, much of the book involves the lead character taking care of her siblings and waiting for her mother to die.“Mami’s cultivating six budding daughters and two rowdy sons; eight thriving blue roses clustered together so closely, they tremble as they cling to the withering stem of her life.”“Waiting for la Muerte to take Mami is like being bound, lying face up on the sacrificial altar of the god Huitzilopochtli, pleading with the Aztec priest, asking him to be kind while he rips my heart out.”“Sometimes she was a comfortable as a blanket, enveloping us in her warmth. She was so soft, we never wanted to let her go.”Despite the difficult topics tackled in this verse driven novel, in the end, the story leaves the reader with hope, “sometimes it’s best to take things down and start all over again.” I highly recommend this short novel.