Tag Archives: poverty

Film Review: ‘Roma’ is a Great Movie

roma 2Realism.  This is the word that summarizes why the film Roma is so great.  It perfectly reflects the realism of Mexico’s class system.  The indigenous people are at the bottom of the society, while light-skinned people who associate themselves with Europeans rule the land.

I well remember the servants I saw in Mexico.  They were from the lower rungs of the ladder.  One of my relatives was extremely poor and barely had the funds to survive.  But somehow she always found some change in her purse.  It was enough to hire neighboring ladies to do some house work; washing dishes or laundering or ironing clothes.  The ladies would be extremely grateful as the change they earned might provide their family with food for a day.

Roma shows prosperous Americans what the life of an indigenous maid in Mexico is like.  It also displays the role of politics in every Mexican’s life and how they react to and handle the current political situation.  And, sometimes disturbingly, it shows the violence in the country that is never displayed on U.S. news programs.

In one situation, Roma shows how everyone helps in an emergency.  The point is well made that we are all dependent upon each other as human beings, regardless of social status.

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Roma is surprisingly good.  I believe it has a solid chance to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.  If it does it will break the glass ceiling in unique fashion and serve as a meaningful tribute to the lives of proud, striving and hardworking people.

Highly recommended.

Alejandro Reyes

Alejandro Reyes is a former production line supervisor for Procter and Gamble.  Educated in Stockton, California, he is enjoying retirement in sunny southern California.

 

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The Pitcher

The Pitcher: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehlerbooks, $15.95, 241 pages)

The Pitcher (nook book)

“I had a friend who was a big baseball player back in high school/ He could through that speedball by you/ Make you look like a fool, boy…/ Glory days, they’ll pass you by….” Bruce Springsteen, “Glory Days”

The Pitcher is Jack Langford, a 25-year major league baseball veteran, whose existence consists of watching games on television in his garage and drinking Good Times beer. Ricky, who lives across the street from Jack, is an aspiring pitcher on the cusp of high school with much more arm than control. Ricky’s mother is a noble soul, trying to raise her son and advance his future in the midst of racism, poverty, and violence.

The writing flows smoothly, the characters are interesting, and the story itself is intriguing. The Pitcher is clearly an enjoyable read, particularly well suited for young adult males. Its only detractors are those baseball purists who like everything in their baseball literature to 100% accurately reflect the game down to the smallest minutiae. From strictly a baseball standpoint, there are some technical inaccuracies (e.g., when Jack finally agrees to give lessons to Ricky and help him make the team, they are nothing like what pitching lessons would actually consist of). There are some others as well, such as description of the interactions between umpires and coaches, coaches and players, etc. However, this is fiction, and in all fiction one must be willing to suspend disbelief. If the baseball fanatic can get past some of that, there is much for them to enjoy here. The story will bring back feelings like hope or joy or disappointment for those who once played the game.

The premise of The Pitcher is strong. This reviewer cannot help but speculate how the major issues dealt with in the book (racism, immigration reform, how to live when one’s dreams seem to be over, domestic violence, access to health care, etc.) would have translated to a larger audience if not confined to a first-person telling by Ricky, whose 8th grade maturity level and vocabulary do not always do them justice.

All of that being said, The Pitcher is a worthy rendering of the age old theme of a boy, a ball, and a dream.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the author. Dave Moyer is an education administrator and a former college baseball player. He is also the author of Life and Life Only, a novel about baseball and Bob Dylan.

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The Roundup

The Roundup – Some Quick Looks at Books

Wife 22: A Novel by Melanie Gideon (Ballantine Books)  –  Gideon’s creative novel is an all-too-much-fun story of a mid-life crisis wife who elects to take part in a marriage survey, and then decides that she might have fallen in love with the researcher assigned to work with her.   “Soon I’ll have to make a decision – one that will affect my family, my marriage, my whole life.”   Will Wife 22 sacrifice everything for a man she’s never seen or spoken to (and only exchanged e-mail messages with)?   This is a story with an ending that the reader will never see coming – unless that reader just happens to remember a certain quite clever hit song from the year 1980.

“…when did the real world become so empty?   When everybody abandoned it for the Internet?”   Wife 22 is a novel about current times, in which human beings communicate by each and every means except true personal, face-to-face communication.

Highly recommended.

Jack 1939: A Novel by Francine Mathews (Riverhead Books)  –  Mathews came up with a great premise in this fictional account of a young John F. Kennedy.   President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly recruits JFK to be his spy in Europe during the period preceding the outbreak of World War II.   The engaging, charismatic personality of JFK is here, but the intelligence of the future world leader is missing in action.

Fairy Tale Interrupted: A Memoir of Life, Love and Loss by Rosemarie Terenzo (Gallery Books)  –  John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s former executive assistant tells us about what it was like to have the “dream job” of working for America’s Prince.   It’s a fascinating account told by Terenzo, a young blue-collar Italian-American girl from the Bronx who became John’s scheduler and gatekeeper.   The problem is that it feels like half a memoir; the deaths of John and his wife Carolyn Bessette in July of 1999 tragically interrupted the charged personal lives chronicled here.   (Terenzo recalls that her final conversation with John was sadly  banal.)

Discretion: A Novel by Allison Leotta (Touchstone)  –  Some readers will no doubt find this to be an exciting political-thriller about a young woman killed while visiting a U.S. Congressman’s hideaway office in the U.S. Capitol Building.   But I was never able to suspend my disbelief in the main characters, especially the female protagonist, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Curtis.   Curtis’s criminal investigation extends into the most sordid sexual aspects of the District of Columbia.   It just seemed unnecessarily overblown.

The Distance Between Us: A Memoir by Reyna Grande (Atria Books)  –  This is a sad, yet moving and life affirming true story of three impoverished children in Mexico whose parents abandon them in order to escape to “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side, the United States).   Overcoming many obstacles, the two sisters and their brother eventually find their way to Los Angeles, where they discover that their parents are living apart from each other.   Despite such a horrendous upbringing, the siblings survive and Reyna goes on to both forgive her dying father and to graduate from the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC).

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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Shine On

The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris by Mark Kurlansky (Riverhead Trade, $16.00, 352 pages)

The Eastern Stars, subtitled How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris, by Mark Kurlansky, chronicles the evolution of baseball in this town, the island in general, and – in some cases – the surrounding Caribbean islands.

At its conclusion, the book has a listing of the first 79 players from San Pedro de Macoris that made it into the U.S./Canadian major leagues.   Many readers will likely assume this book has more baseball content and less history, and from the middle toward the end, baseball plays a more prominent role in the story.   The beginning of the book is a long history lesson, which may prove to be quite frustrating for some readers.

The most interesting parts of the book are the tales of how the local men who did succeed in playing major league baseball viewed their hometown.   The decisions they made during and after their careers relating to how they supported the needs of their families and brethren had outcomes ranging from remarkable generosity to outright dismissal.

Extreme poverty is the one common denominator affecting all.   The subjects of steroids, scouts, and how MLB organizations handled their affairs in Latin America also permeate throughout.

The book dances between trying to satisfy the history buffs and the baseball fans and, thus, falls short in both areas.   However, it does add up to a satisfying story, especially after it manages to leave the ground.   Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Mark Kurlansky is also the author of the nonfiction books Cod and Salt. 

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris by Mark Kurlansky.

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Expecting to Fly

My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir by Mark Whitaker (Simon & Schuster; $25.99; 368 pages)

“Perhaps there was something buried in this memor that I kept missing, something that I kept searching for in vain.   It may be buried somewhere…”

The best memoirs take off and soar as they take us on a journey through the writer’s life.   This memoir by CNN Chief Mark Whitaker seemed to taxi on the runway from its beginning on page 1 until its conclusion 367 pages later.   This reader never felt the presence of Whitaker’s mind or personality in an account that was overly flat and dry:  “My mother taught and my father began writing his dissertation and I played with the other faculty  brats in the spacious yard outside while my brother grew into a toddler.”   The language, in fact, was so dry that I began to wish that this had been prepared as an “As told to…” or “With…” version with some energy to it.

It’s difficult to see what major statement about life was meant to be imparted by this work.   Whitaker’s professor father divorced Whitaker’s mother when Mark was young; thus, he seems to view himself as a unique member of a group that “…had grown up without our fathers around and with very little money in the house.”   That’s actually quite a large group in our society.   Moreover, Whitaker reminds us again and again that he wound up at Harvard.

There’s simply far too much here about Whitaker’s time at Harvard, and the lifelong connections he made there.   It seems that wherever Whitaker goes in the world, he meets people – primarily women – of whom he states, “She had also gone to Harvard.”   It becomes a very clubby account, and it’s hard to see why this would be of interest to the general reader.

“Angry men don’t make great husbands.”

In an attempt to create a story of interest, Whitaker casts aspersions on his father who is portrayed as either “a cruel bully or a selfish baby.”   Cleophaus Sylvester “Syl” Whitaker is also portrayed as a major alcoholic although it’s noted that he only missed teaching three classes in a long and distinguished academic career.   (He once entered a rehabilitation center for treatment.)   Syl held numerous impressive teaching and administrative posts at Swarthmore, Rutgers, UCLA (where he was a key assistant to Chancellor Charles E. Young), Princeton, CUNY and the University of Southern California (from which he retired, at age 60, as professor emeritus of political science and former USC College Dean of Social Sciences).   He was never found asleep in a gutter or under a bridge, so it is hard to see how this squares with Whitaker’s notion that his father’s life was an “arc of blazing early success fading into self-destruction and financial hardship.”

Perhaps there was something buried in this memoir that I kept missing, something that I kept searching for in vain.   It may be buried in a sentence such as this one, which I found to be a bit too clouded to understand:  “It was as if the longer I was separated from my father, the more I lost touch with the outgoing child who had modeled himself after him.”

Joseph Arellano

An advance review copy was received from the publisher.   My Long Trip Home will be released on October 18, 2011.

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Only the Good Die Young

Good Graces: A Novel by Lesley Kagen (Dutton, $25.95, 337 pages)

“The almighty works in mysterious ways, ma cherie.”

It’s 1960.   You’re a young girl living in a quiet suburb of Milwaukee, in a community whose foundation is the Feelin’ Good Cookie Factory (the closer one lives to the odoriferous factory, the poorer one’s family is), with your cunning sister Troo.   The problem is that the adults in the community seem to be clueless to the problems in their midst, including juvenile delinquency.   Troo’s reporting of the troublemaker known as Greasy Al means that he’s been sent to a juvenile detention facility, which seems like good news until you find out from your police detective step-dad-to-be (he’s engaged to your  mother) that the evil kid has escaped.   Now it’s up to Troo to come up with a perfect plan for dealing with Greasy Al’s imminent return.

As Troo’s sister, you know that she’s no amateur when it comes to this business.   You previously had a problem with a male summer camp counselor, and Troo made him disappear from the face of the earth.   So now you’re hoping that Troo’s plan for Greasy Al is not too efficient…   And just when you’re dealing with this, you learn from other kids in the neighborhood that one of the respected pillars of the community is making young boys “do bad things,” which immediately changes everything.   Now Troo puts Plan A on the back-burner while she develops a new plan to bring law and order to your town.

You and Troo must rely on a couple of other youngsters to help you – one male and one female – and you have to hope that they can keep their lips sealed forever if Troo’s new solution works.   You both think you can count on Artie and Mary Lane, especially the latter since:  “She’s been tortured by the best in the world – nuns.   So detectives asking her a couple of questions wouldn’t bother her at all.”

Good Graces, written in a child’s voice, is simply one of the most enjoyable novels that I’ve read in years (at least three or more).   Kagen’s ability to write in an adolescent’s voice is remarkable, and she has fun toying with the artifacts of the time, such as the TV shows Queen for a Day and Howdy Doody.   Adult readers who grew up in less prosperous homes will identify with the characters, as will Catholics and lapsed Catholics.   The young characters in the tale attend Catholic school and learn that the  nuns can indeed inflict pain when it’s needed and otherwise.

At its base, this is a fine and fun morality play in which children save a community and the almost-brainless adults are never the wiser.   It’s the sequel to Whistling in the Dark, and I can hardly wait for the third part of Lesley Kagen’s true justice trilogy.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Moving, funny, and full of unexpected delights…   Kagen crafts a gorgeous page-turner about love, loss, and loyalty, all told in the sparkling voices of two extraordinary sisters.”   Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You.

Good Graces was released on September 1, 2011.

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