Sunday, September 18, 2011

September 2011 Book Club Meeting

Summary: In his 2003 National Book Award–winning memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana, Carlos Eire narrated his coming of age in Cuba just before and during the Castro revolution. That book literally ends in midair as eleven-year-old Carlos and his older brother leave Havana on an airplane—along with thousands of other children—to begin their new life in Miami in 1962. It would be years before he would see his mother again. He would never again see his beloved father. 

Learning to Die in Miami opens as the plane lands and Carlos faces, with trepidation and excitement, his new life. He quickly realizes that in order for his new American self to emerge, his Cuban self must "die." And so, with great enterprise and purpose, he begins his journey. 

We follow Carlos as he adjusts to life in his new home. Faced with learning English, attending American schools, and an uncertain future, young Carlos confronts the age-old immigrant's plight: being surrounded by American bounty, but not able to partake right away. The abundance America has to offer excites him and, regardless of how grim his living situation becomes, he eagerly forges ahead with his own personal assimilation program, shedding the vestiges of his old life almost immediately, even changing his name to Charles. Cuba becomes a remote and vague idea in the back of his mind, something he used to know well, but now it "had ceased to be part of the world." 

But as Carlos comes to grips with his strange surroundings, he must also struggle with everyday issues of growing up. His constant movement between foster homes and the eventual realization that his parents are far away in Cuba bring on an acute awareness that his life has irrevocably changed. Flashing back and forth between past and future, we watch as Carlos balances the divide between his past and present homes and finds his way in this strange new world, one that seems to hold the exhilarating promise of infinite possibilities and one that he will eventually claim as his own. 

An exorcism and an ode, Learning to Die in Miami is a celebration of renewal—of those times when we're certain we have died and then are somehow, miraculously, reborn. -- Free Press

For our September meeting, we discussed LEARNING TO DIE IN MIAMI: CONFESSIONS OF A REFUGEE BOY by Carlos Eire. I'm going to be honest with you. I had high hopes for this book and I didn't enjoy it like I had hoped. I had a rough time with the author's writing style and I didn't feel as if he was detailed enough about certain events. I will be giving more details about my issues with the book in my review which is scheduled for next week.

So what did my book club think about LEARNING TO DIE IN MIAMI? The opinions were kind of divided. We had a small group at our meeting -- six in total; and only four of us actually finished the book (two other women had started it but weren't able to finish!) Two of the women seemed to really enjoy the book and it was interesting to hear their thoughts. There was definitely one other member who mirrored my opinions -- almost exactly -- and I thought we brought up some valid issues.

While LEARNING TO DIE IN MIAMI wasn't a huge hit with our group, I do think we all appreciated the book at some level. And I will definitely say that we had an excellent discussion surrounding the book. Once we calmed down (we tend to get sidetracked very easily, or in this case, took awhile to start discussing the book), we really delved into the specifics of this memoir. I was pretty proud of us since we discussed the author's experiences, the political environment of Cuba and the U.S., the literary style of the writing, the symbolism, and quite a bit more. We also talked about what worked for us in the book as well as what didn't. We found that we didn't have any formal discussion questions, but that didn't affect us at all. There was a great deal to discuss in LEARNING TO DIE IN MIAMI, and we were actually talking over each other in our excitement to share our views.

Next month, we will be reading WHAT ALICE FORGOT by Liane Moriarty. I read this book a few months ago and loved it. You can read my review here. I am pretty excited about this pick for a number of reasons. First of all, I loved it! Secondly, our group hasn't read much women's fiction lately. And lastly, because I think there's a great deal for us to discuss!

Summary: What would happen if you were visited by your younger self, and got a chance for a do-over?

Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. So imagine her surprise when, after a fall, she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! she HATES the gym!) and discovers that she's actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

A knock on the head has misplaced ten years of her life, and Alice isn't sure she likes who she's become. It turns out, though, that forgetting might be the most memorable thing that has ever happened to Alice. -- Amy Einhorn


bermudaonion said...

I like it when other members of my book club feel differently about a book than I did. Even though this wasn't your favorite, it sounds like it made for a good discussion.

Carol said...

HI Julie

I agree that What Alice Forgot will give you all a lot to discuss.

Great read.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think this book would interest me a lot, because I've spent a bit of time in Miami (although not, admittedly, in the sixties) but it seems VERY Cuban to me. I wonder how different it would be for a kid coming over now, with the very Cuban culture?

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Hmmm... what ALice forgot sounds interesting!

Our book club had a similar discussion over a book this week. I did not love the book and our discussion was all over different topics from WWII, to The War Of The Worlds radio announcement, we had a good discussion.... but all rated the book low.

Serena said...

I like when there are differing opinions about a book, makes for interesting discussion.

I like the Cuban immigrant story, which is one reason I enjoyed Richard Blanco's poetry...which had an authentic feel to them.

ChaosIsAFriendOfMine said...

I loved What Alice Forgot too. I think it's be a great book club pick - a lot to discuss!

Rachel (ChaosIsAFriendOfMine)