Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Hungry Woman in Paris is Code

Josefina López. NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2009.
ISBN: 9780446699419

Michael Sedano

From its opening paragraphs, Hungry Woman in Paris reads with the same hyperbolic first person breathlessness of a Young Adult chiclit novel. But mothers, don't let your girls read Canela's story until they're engaged--at least--if not married. And if that adventurous daughter of yours reads Hungry Woman in Paris despite your censorship, then tells you she wants to go to Paris on vacation, alone, tell her you know about the swinger sex club scene, so don't get any cochina ideas about doing a ménage a quatre right there on the dance floor. Wouldn't she prefer a nice trip to Disneylandia, instead?

Your teenage boys will keep the novel under the mattress, and share the "best parts" with all their friends.

All of which means Josefina López achieves her purposes to, in turn, amuse, shock, tempt, and taunt sundry readers lacking the good sense to recognize Hungry Woman in Paris as a deliberately outrageous pastiche of the chiclit genre, with a generous helping of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin. Hemingway? Canela is the movable feast, which is part of the joke, and López' affront to prudes everywhere.

The novel is an almost complete success. I say "almost" because López' first person voice leads me to wonder if there's more than a soupçon of autobiography in this ribald tale of a failed journalist on the lam from a prima's tragic suicide and the bizarre velorio, a failed engagement, an irate mother, and her own depression. Naturally, she enrolls in cooking school.

This is not your mother's Como Agua Para Chocolate, despite the recipes and cookery. Canela stumbles her way through class, affronting classmates, seducing chefs and translators, earning a few measly Euros posing nude or helping Japanese tourists buy Louis Vuitton merchandise, and, with her typically impulsive thoughtlessness, help a Turkish woman escape her husband's vengeance. Más, she then inserts herself into the notorious riots of Arab youth contra French racism, and plays cougar to a Arabic rapper from the projects. Then...other stuff happens. This is the kind of novel that readers are advised to just sit back and let unfold.

Hungry Woman in Paris boldly takes Chicana literature into places where, like a literary Star Trek, no woman has gone before. Not that there aren't a few perplexities.

Canela comes out of Boyle Heights, a semi-successful writer but a failure to meet her Mexican-American family's standards to be a good Mexican daughter. Conflicting cultural norms play havoc with Canela's and her family's expectations. Canela's spent a lifetime fleeing them with no particular direction, and this has been further complicated by US immigration strictures. France, Canela discovers, is a lot like the US, except in many ways, worse, for immigrants.

That's right, "Mexican-American," a curious choice, given Canela's upbringing among the Mexicanas and Chicanas of Boyle Heights, her allusions to protests she's been involved in, and her kick-ass attitude to rules and external controls. Canela is conscious of the distinction, electing the binational term because "Chicana" would be too difficult to explain, with her limited French. But that's the public Canela. Yet, even the private Canela prefers the hyphenated identity term, but chafes under the oxymoron.

"No, I'm North American...Mexican-American," she tells a cabbie. "I clarified for him in Spanish. I wanted to tell him I was a Chicana, but then I would have to give him a cultural and historical lesson". The incident with the cab driver offers one of the novel's more insightful moments. Canela taunts the nationalistic driver that he can call himself Spanish if he likes, but his children, and for sure his grandchildren, will call themselves French. "It won't be up to you to determine their identity, it's up to them."

Given the extremes López takes her character, her editorial conventionality comes as a disappointment. She translates all Spanish language phrases into English, if not as an apposition in a follow-up periphrasis. The only saving grace of this irritating editorial strategy is the absence of italics. "'Hmmm,' her mother says, 'donde el va, yo ya vine.' Where he is going I've already been was my mother's way of saying she had already planned for betrayal."

When all is said and done, Canela and López want to make this one point clear: men everywhere are shits, most of them. A woman has a right to live her life in whatever fashion meets her needs, wants, desires, curiosities. Keep tasting life's treats and eventually, like the runaway Turkish bride, or Canela herself, a woman will find the man who deserves her. Or is that vice versa? Could a chiclit novel have a different ending? Probably not. López' Epilogue wraps the novel into a tidy package:

"Frenchwomen don't get fat and Japanese women don't grow old or get fat...but Latina women do. We get fat and we wrinkle, but our wrinkles come from laughing and crying. We know how to feel and eat; we know how to love and to come; we know how to live ourselves to death." In the end, readers will fulfill López' wish. It was delicious. And yes, "hungry" means horny.

Hit List Hits East Harlem

Sergio Troncoso writes about the reading experience at his blog,
"Chico Lingo..."

MONDAY, MAY 18, 2009
East Harlem Cafe and Hit List Reading
Last Thursday I read at a place I am still entranced by, the East Harlem Café owned by Michelle Cruz, at 104th and Lexington in El Barrio. Two other authors from Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery, read with me, Carlos Hernandez and Richie Narvaez. A few hours before, Richie and I appeared on the Victor Cruz Show, a radio talkfest from Brooklyn. Man, did I have a good time. This is the thing about getting out there, reading and talking to people about your work. You meet new people who wow you, you get to discover what they have created, and you feel lucky. Let me count the ways.

Pancho Rodriguez and Tennessee Williams A Love Story Almost Lost to Time

Gregg Barrios sends the following news about his upcoming release. Felicidades, Gregg.

Just a heads up on the June 1st release of the trade edition of Rancho Pancho. It is the first play to be published in The Hansen Drama Series. It has a forward by David Kaplan, curator, Provincetown Tennessee Wiliams Theatre Festival. Blurbs from playwrights Nancy Cassaro (Tony n' Tina's Wedding ) and Luis Valdez (Zoot Suit ) as well as a gaggle of newspaper and magazine critics from the cities where the play has been performed.

The schedule of my first signing tour forthcoming with dates. Cities and bookstores lined up include:

Now Voyager Bookstore, Provincetown, Ma
The Drama Book Shop, New York City, NY
Borders - Garden District, New Orleans, LA

Hope my publisher can add your city or town to the tour. Meanwhile, there will be a special event in San Antonio to launch the book in June.

Be well,


PS While the book purchase price is less expensive at B&N.com, you have to pay sales tax and shipping. At Amazon, it is at list price and you don't pay tax or shipping. But I hope you support your local independent bookstore and purchase your copy there.


"Rancho Pancho is a delightfully decadent love story. Through Barrios' beautiful work, we are given a bird's-eye view into the brilliant, prolific
and complex life of our greatest American playwright Tennessee Williams." – Nancy Cassaro, actress and playwright, Tony n' Tina's Wedding.

"A wonderful piece of theater... a delicious slice of history." – Luis Valdez, playwright, Zoot Suit.

Will the swallow come back to Barbara Renaud González?

Rigoberto Gonzáles sends word that his El Paso Times Review of GOLONDRINA, WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME? is posted now at http://www.elpasotimes.com/living/ci_12386618

Sounds like a good read. Per Rigoberto's review, "The narrator's name is Lucero, and like the star in her name, she proceeds to guide the reader through a border-crossing odyssey as sad and familiar as a corrido, as hopeful as the song referenced in the title, though the golondrina in question, that determined swallow, is none other than her own mother, Amada."

National Latino Writers Conference This Week in Alburquerque

This week, I'll be posting photos and updates from the conference that starts Wednesday at New Mexico's beautiful National Hispanic Cultural Center. I'll be there to conduct the workshop "Oracy: Presenting Your Work Effectively." Look for a link to my video illustrations and notes in a future La Bloga Tuesday.

That's the penultimate Tuesday of the fifth month of the year. A Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except you are here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga.

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