Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Review: The Accidental Santera

"Irete Lazo." NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2008.
ISBN: 978-0-312-38188-2


Michael Sedano

That's not this author's real name, according to the inside flap of the dust jacket of this interesting novel. The photo of a smiling brown-skinned woman may be Lazo or quién sabe who. "Lazo" in her not pseudonym worked as a scientist, print journalist, announcer  for NPR, and santera. 
And there's the rub. The Accidental Santera describes an agnostic experimental scientist's religious conversion from lapsed Texas Catholic to priestess of the Cuban-Afro religion called Santeria. 

Santeria informs many a novel. From cultural allusions in such work as Leonardo Padura's Havana colors series, to the more typical scary elements of such novels as Alex Abella's scary The Killing of the Saints.

Perhaps owing to the horror-story character of the religion, "Lazo" elects to cloak her actual identity behind that pseudonym. Just as her character, a San Francisco State University professor does.

La Profesora works happily with her third-world students out of an obligation to bring people of color into the racist, sexist, deeply biased world of the hard sciences.

But other than that happiness, the first person narrator is dismal. She and her scientist husband have grown estranged, partially as a result of three miscarriages and their failure to conceive. But he's become an insensitive clod, and she drinks too much. Her BFF, another Latina scientist, offers a comforting shoulder to cry on, as well as a solid point of reference for Gabi's--our narrator--sense of estrangement from her own Latinidad.

Gabriella's crises of culture, relationship, faith, and faithfulness, come to a head at a New Orleans scientific conference. Drinking too much, she picks up a good-looking scientist at the conference party and allows herself to be pulled to the brink of adultery, until too many margaritas drive her to a toilet bowl to puke out her guts.

Having come to this head-spinningly low point in her life, Gabi sits for a santero's reading of the bones at Marie Laveau's voodoo shop, setting Gabi off on a search for identity that eventuates in her initiation as a santera of The Religion.

Stripped to these outlines, The Accidental Santera offers a fulfilling story of academic political bullshit, marriage, fertility, family, and friendship. Less arresting is the author's drive to explain her conversion to Santeria, which requires the novel to assume a pedagogical voice explaining the various terms and personages of The Religion--as Santeria is referred by adherents. Also less involving is the author's--or her editor's--insistence on appositional translation. Say something in Spanish and have it in English in the next clause. Worse, the translation is almost always literal, none of the fun with expression seen in such work as Houston, We Have a Problema. Fortunately, the "Lazo" resists the temptation to use a lot of Spanish but instead tells us a character speaks in Spanish.

Despite these flaws, or perhaps because of them, the novel is an enjoyable reading experience. And, given the allusions to Santeria in so many other novels, The Accidental Santera--including its glossary--will fill several gaps in many a reader's knowledge.

Free Houston, We Have A Problema

After I reviewed Gwendolyn Zepeda's chiclit title, Houston, We Have a Problema, the publisher offered a free copy to the first five La Bloga readers who requested a copy. And that's exactly what La Bloga was happy to do for these friends:

Randy Zuniga
Stanton, Ca

Lauren Bogenberger
Odenton MD

Arnoldo Mata
Pharr TX

Amy Mascareñas
Watsonville, ca

George Luna-Peña
Washington DC 20036

Congratulations to our five friends! I hope they'll read and enjoy the title and send in their own review of the novel, or pass along their copy to other readers to share in the experience.

Know that La Bloga welcomes your reviews of books reviewed here, or other titles that merit La Bloga's attention. Be La Bloga's guest by leaving a comment, or click here to get more information about your invitation to be a La Bloga guest columnist.

Arroba, arroba, arroba.

Last week, La Bloga's Thursday columnist, Lisa Alvarado, introduced Damian Baca's [Mestiza Mestizo] Scripts, Digital Migrations, and the Territories of Writing. Rather than spelling out the feminine and masculine noun forms of the title, Baca elected using the nonsense @ marker to designate both genders. I complained and a commenter with the handle Quetzal, presumably Baca himself, blamed some gente at UC Berkely for the orthography, averring the unpronounceable spelling offers some version of gender inclusivity. 

I disagree. Vehemently. For me, this arroba represents someone's cute idea gone wild. I see the usage as laziness, at best. As I complained, how does a reader pronounce that perversion? Chicanat? Chicanarroba? In any event, the spelling doesn't say what the writer intends, so it's simply an error.

Chicana Chicano writers express inclusivity by writing inclusively. Only slightly less huevón is the -a -o abbreviation, as in "Latina/o", which Quetzal acknowledges as similarly unpronounceable, and characterizes as a "landmine." Sheesh, gente. When approaching a landmine, the only sensible strategy is go around. I'd say that's a safe rule, ¿que no?

Hay les wachamos, folks. Happy inauguration.

Believe It.

When I was a kid, the legal voting age was 21. So I was already in grad school my first presidential election. 1968. Gene McCarthy was my man.

I remember. Bobby and Hubert. Riots in Chicago and Miami. Law and ordure Nixon’s Southern Strategy plays on racial divisions to solidify the still-solid GOP South. Thanx, Dick. In ‘68, Nixon drafts my ass out of grad school. Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton stay home.

You go. Yes you can.

I remember my parents' bitter disappointment when a real estate agent phones us the evening we’d bought a new house. The offer rescinded because Mexicans not allowed to live in that neighborhood.

No you can't.

I remember 4th grade, playing violin for the Superintendent of Schools who pats my head with his greatest compliment, “You are a credit to your race.”

No you can't.

I remember 5th grade, we buy a house and I enroll in a new school. The first week an invitation to a girl's birthday party. Wow, I am amazed that some people rent the entire roller rink—I’d never been inside--to hold private parties. Then the girl phones me and tells me I’m disinvited--Mexicans not allowed in the roller rink on Saturday mornings.

No you can't.

I remember photos and television images, cops using fire hoses to knock people down, attack them with dogs, club them to the ground, because they want to vote.

No you can’t.

I remember bombs. Schwerner. Chaney. Goodman. Evers. QEPD. Troops to open schoolhouse doors.

No you can't.

I remember incredulous men and women peppering me with questions, "What are you?" "Where is your father from?” “What language do you speak at home?" then denying I could possibly be, because I win speech contests.

No you can't.

I remember, all gussied up for fraternity rush, the curious stares from the guys. Why was I bothering? Not welcome.

No you can't.

I remember a voice on television telling me Barack Obama surpasses 270 Electoral Votes and is the 44th President of the United States of America.

Yes we can.

1 comment:

Irete said...

HI,
This is Irete Lazo, author of THE ACCIDENTAL SANTERA. I just wanted to comment on my choice of a pseudonym. First, Irete Lazo is one of my religious names. In ceremony, I am indeed Irete Lazo (no quotes). Second, I chose a pseudonym, in part, to protect my family from animal rights activists (a group with whom, as a former scientist, I am all to familiar) and religious zealots who might want to do harm to what they see as devil worshipers. Third, I put my picture on the cover to show the world that I am proud to be a santera. Please remember that what you are reading is fiction--well informed fiction--but fiction nonetheless. For example, unlike Gabrielle, my journey took nearly 10 years, my husband was always supportive and I don't actively hide my practice from family, friends or co-workers. Lastly, I feel using the name Irete Lazo honors Ifa and the Yoruba tradition that has given me so much. I am happy to put aside my own ego and acknowledge the power of the miracles working in my life. I fully expect that someday I will either be 'outed' or I will 'out' myself. The trouble is, if you know my name, you can find where I live. The Internet makes that all too easy. If you go to my website, you'll find a link to a BlogRadio interview. You can hear more about the pseudonym issue there. (Also on my site, you can see me and members of my family in a video book trailer narrated by actress Elizabeth Peña who is working on directing a movie version of the novel.) This book was published in Oct. I'm surprised it took this long for someone to focus on the name issue. I do appreciate the kind words of the reviewer and hope that anyone wanting to learn more about this growing religion will not let the name issue get in the way. Blessings, Irete Lazo