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American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood (Paperback)
This enthralling memoir of a bicultural childhood is one of the finest works of nonfiction I have read. With prose masterfully grounded in memory and the senses, Arana, born of a Peruvian father and an American mother, explores the ties and tensions between the two, and how those forces resonate intricacies in the cultural divide between Latin and North America. Her lyrical story brings to life a Peru animated by spirits and magic, as well as calamities brought on by earthquakes, rubber barons, and grinding poverty. A 2001 finalist for the National Book Award, this inspiring book sustains its importance through timeless themes: family, love, history, race, class, and the role of women in society. ~ John— From John
In her father’s Peruvian family, Marie Arana was taught to be a proper lady, yet in her mother’s American family she learned to shoot a gun, break a horse, and snap a chicken’s neck for dinner. Arana shuttled easily between these deeply separate cultures for years. But only when she immigrated with her family to the United States did she come to understand that she was a hybrid American whose cultural identity was split in half. Coming to terms with this split is at the heart of this graceful, beautifully realized portrait of a child who “was a north-south collision, a New World fusion. An American Chica.”
Here are two vastly different landscapes: Peru—earthquake-prone, charged with ghosts of history and mythology—and the sprawling prairie lands of Wyoming. In these rich terrains resides a colorful cast of family members who bring Arana’s historia to life...her proud grandfather who one day simply stopped coming down the stairs; her dazzling grandmother, “clicking through the house as if she were making her way onstage.” But most important are Arana’s parents: he a brilliant engineer, she a gifted musician. For more than half a century these two passionate, strong-willed people struggled to overcome the bicultural tensions in their marriage and, finally, to prevail.
About the Author
Marie Arana is the editor of The Washington Post Book World and has done feature writing for The Post. She has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Book Critics Circle. She lives in Washington, D.C.
"Lush, mystical ... a memoir that blends family historia and the puzzling deadly politics of Peru."—USA Today
"American Chica is a fascinating blend of autobiography and soap opera, memoir and meditation. ... full of larger-than-life characters and stranger-than-fiction situations. ... delightful."—Washington Post
"Arana's intimate and intelligent memoir captures exactly the pulse of a changing America. ...[C]learly demonstrates her ability to write crystalline prose and make erudite cultural observations."—Library Journal
"Part history, part family memoir ... American Chica reads like a collaboration between John Cheever and Isabel Allende.... One of the many reasons the reader can't put this memoir down is the author's impressive command of her craft.... Arana has left her own imprint on her material, while at the same time displaying virtuosity in the storyteller's traditional gifts: spareness, clarity, and a passion for allegory."—The New York Times Book Review
A South American man, a North American woman—hoping against hope, throwing a frail span over the divide, trying to bolt beams into sand. There was one large lesson my parents had yet to learn as they strode into the garden with friends, hungry for rum and fried blood: There is a fundamental rift between North and South America, a flaw so deep it is tectonic. The plates don't fit. The earth is loose. A fault runs through. Earthquakes happen. Walls are likely to fall.
—from American Chica