Sunday, May 31, 2009

Review: Our Lady of the Artichokes....

When I first saw the title, I laughed out loud and ordered it. I think I expected something on the line of 'Dave Barry poking fun at the Japanese' humor. HOWEVER....this is a serious, well-written, at times very deep, collection of stories that could only have been written by a Luso(Portuguese)-American. I'm married to one. We have many relatives in California's central valley where several of the stories are set. This morning as we ate breakfast, my husband related his memories of the Holy Ghost Festivals (today being Pentecost) and we discussed the story The Man who was made of Netting. Manny wanted his daughter to be the star of the festival and so found some creative financing to get her a gem studded cape (at a mere $10K!) to wear in the procession. The results of this desire/decision are in that category of 'would be comical if it weren't so sad.' The story of the young Portuguese girl writing to Sr. Lucia (the last survivor of the Fatima miracle and the keeper of the 'last secret') is one every woman who ever had a dream as a pre-teen can relate to. Written as a series of letters, it shows the progression of dreams being dashed by reality. The title story, Our Lady of the Artichokes --so California in addition to being so Portuguese--I won't do spoilers-- is again funny and sad. All the stories have a desolate beauty, a longing for a better life while being resigned to what is here and now. A Portuguese saudade if you will. The prose is so sharp it can cut. For example:
Women were leaning over windowsills, looking altogether like open flaps in an Advent Calendar.
I didn't like the first story Taking a Stitch in a Dead Man's Arm and put the book down over a month ago, but came back to it and found on a re-read that while I may not like it, I can feel it, and appreciate the prose. The final story, The Lisbon Story -- about two dying men--one young, one old-- who are brought together by a house in Lisbon is a stunner, and will cause me to come back periodically to pick up this book and read a story here and there again and again.
I suspected it was five in the morning, an hour I worship; the sky pounds the black pearl of the night until it is in pieces and for a brief time, right then, the white of day is the grout holding it together, a perfect tiled mosaic to greet us...
This is definitely a sleeper. If you live in California, or have any Portuguese relatives or friends, you'll really enjoy this wonderful collection by Katherine Vaz.

1 comment:

  1. Tutu: I don't live in California, but as you must know, there are a lot of Portugues-Americans living here in coastal New England. This sounds like a book I would really enjoy. I'm glad you went back to it after your initial experience. I think it's great that you point out that you can appreciate good writing even if you don't actually like a particular story. (Some of my friends just don't get that.) I'm glad you enjoyed the rest of the book! Thanks for spotlighting it!


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