In The Media
August 31, 2012
"Then Mago touched my belly button . Read more...
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"Then Mago touched my belly button . . . She said that my umbilical cord was like a ribbon that connected me to Mami. She said, "It doesn't matter that there's a distance btween us now. That cord is there forever." "
When Reyna Grande's father leaves his wife and three children behind in a village in Mexico to make the dangerous trek across the border to the United States, he promises he will soon return from "El Otro Lado" (The Other Side) with enough money to build them a dream house where they can all live together. His promises become harder to believe as months turn into years. When he summons his wife to join him, Reyna and her siblings are deposited in the already overburdened household of their stern, unsmiling grandmother.
The three siblings are forced to look out for themselves; in childish games they find a way to forget the pain of abandonment and learn to solve very adult problems. When their mother at last returns, the reunion sets the stage for a dramatic new chapter in Reyna's young life: her own journey to "El Otro Lado" to live with the man who has haunted her imagination for years, her long-absent father.
In this extraordinary memoir, award-winning writer Reyna Grande vividly brings to life her tumultuous early years, capturing all the confusion and contradictions of childhood, especially one spent torn between two parents and two countries. Elated when she feels the glow of her father's love and approval, Reyna knows that at any moment he might turn angry or violent. Only in books and music and her rich imaginary life does she find solace, a momentary refuge from a world in which every place feels like "El Otro Lado."
"The Distance Between Us "captures one girl's passage from childhood to adolescence and beyond. A funny, heartbreaking, lyrical story, it reminds us that the joys and sorrows of childhood are always with us, invisible to the eye but imprinted on the heart, forever calling out to us of those places we first called home.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-05-21
- Reviewer: Staff
Award-winning novelist (Across a Hundred Mountains) Grande captivates and inspires in her memoir. Raised in Mexico in brutal poverty during the 1980s, four-year-old Grande and her two siblings lived with their cruel grandmother after both parents departed for the U.S. in search of work. Grande deftly evokes the searing sense of heartache and confusion created by their parents’ departure. Eight years later her father returned and reluctantly agreed to take his children to the States. Yet life on the other side of the border was not what Grande imagined: her father’s new girlfriend’s indifference to the three children becomes more than apparent. Though Grande’s father continually stressed the importance of his children obtaining an education, his drinking resulted in violence, abuse, and family chaos. Surrounded by family turmoil, Grande discovered a love of writing and found solace in library books, and she eventually graduated from high school and went on to become the first person in her family to graduate from college. Tracing the complex and tattered relationships binding the family together, especially the bond she shared with her older sister, the author intimately probes her family’s history for clues to its disintegration. Recounting her story without self-pity, she gracefully chronicles the painful results of a family shattered by repeated separations and traumas (Aug.)
The promises of crossing borders
The Pew Hispanic Center recently reported that “the U.S. today has more immigrants from Mexico alone—12 million—than any other country in the world has from all the countries in the world.”
In the last 40 years, these Mexican immigrants, desperate to escape a harsh landscape of grinding poverty, left their homes and families to come to el otro lado, or the “other side,” the name writer Reyna Grande says her people use to refer to the United States.
Grande, an award-winning novelist, has written a courageous memoir, The Distance Between Us, that chronicles her “before and after” existence: her life in Mexico without her parents, and her life in the States as an undocumented immigrant with her alcoholic father and indifferent stepmother.
Grande tells the heart-rending story of how first her father, then her mother, left her and her two siblings to find work and better wages in the U.S. After enduring repeated parental abandonment, fear and physical and emotional deprivation, Grande finally escapes over the border into California with her father and siblings. In Los Angeles, she soon finds a new set of challenges—from the secrecy she must maintain as an illegal immigrant to navigating public school and trying to find love and security in a chaotic home life. She longs for a soul connection to her birthplace—a shack with a dirt floor—under which was buried the umbilical cord of her birth, a “ribbon” that her sister said lessened “the distance between us,” the void of their mother’s continued absence.
Grande’s salvation, however, would come through her discovery of books and writing, and in the friendship of a teacher who gave her a home and mentored her. Unlike her siblings, Grande completed her education and was the first in her family to graduate from college. Her compelling story, told in unvarnished, resonant prose, is an important piece of America’s immigrant history.