"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."


Monday, April 09, 2007

La Perdida

La Perdida
Author: Jessica Abel
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN-10: 0375423656
ISBN-13: 978-0375423659

La Perdida
is the story of Carla Olivares, a Mexican-American woman who decides to live in Mexico knowing virtually nothing about the real Mexico. She doesn’t speak Spanish and she has the romantic view that Mexico is somehow perfect. Like a lot of us Chicanas here she sees Mexico as her homeland and as something very different than what it really is.

Carla crashes at the apartment of her ex-boyfriend, a wealthy WASP till things get so bad he throws her out. Her time is spent visiting Frida Kahlo’s house, the pyramids and other monuments that she feels will help get her in touch with her Mexican side. She meets up with a bad group of people and some of the choices she makes are horrendous. I felt for Carla but was exasperated by her at the same time. Her treatment of people who are just trying to be her friends is apalling but understandable. I get why she's being such a bitch even while I'm cringing at her behavior.

The people Carla decides are her friends are petty criminals posing as revolutionaries. They play on Carla’s American guilt expertly, calling her conquistadora, a conquerer. To be a Chicana and to be called a conquistadora really hits home and these guys know how to play it up. Carla gets deeper and deeper, more and more sucked in, keeps making these incredibly stupid choices and Mexico becomes a dangerous nightmare. It’s an incredibly riveting story.

I know so many people like Carla (without the poor choices) so its easy to understand her. I get why Memo and Oscar give her such a hard time too. Jessica Abel writes so convincingly and it all rings very, very true.

The art just makes it even more incredible. Jessica Abel has such a commanding way of drawing characters. She manages to speak volumes with the way she draws a shoulder, an expression, the way people move. There are some great illustrations of the city that bring Mexico to life. I love the jacaranda trees that line the streets. They're so beautiful that I can almost smell them and feel their velvety purple blossoms.

Chicanos and Chicanas or pochos as they call us that grew up here longing for our homeland. It’s easy to glorify Mexico and its culture. It’s something we grew up lacking. Still, we are privileged here like it or not and when we go into Mexico, we’re perceived as American however much we see ourselves as Mexican. I’ve lived both in Mexico and here and even though for the most part I’ve fit in, there’s always been this sense of otherness that doesn’t quite fit.

La Perdida does a fantastic job of showing the angst felt by Mexican-Americans, our wanting to belong to our homeland while feeling cut off from it. It shows how much we love our culture and how different real Mexican life is from what we percieve it to be. The graphic novel medium adds incredible depth and intensity to the already riveting story.

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