Friday, November 11, 2011

A Cafecito Story

A Cafecito Story

     Julia Alvarez may not be a household name but her works are definitely recognizable. Among other things, she wrote the novels “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents” and “In the Time of the Butterflies”. Yes, that Julia Alvarez. She is actually the authoress of ten novels, five books of poetry, a children’s book, and a book of collected essays. She is considered one of the most significant Latina writers, having achieved critical and commercial success on an international level. Born in New York of Dominican parents, she spent her early childhood on that island, returning to the U.S. at the age of ten. She is known for works that examine cultural expectations of women in both the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. I see her as successfully bridging the two cultures, rather than awkwardly straddling them. 

     I recently came upon a copy of Julia’s novella “A Cafecito Story”, an English/Spanish bilingual edition. My Spanish is passable but I’ve found books in this format to be very helpful to me in that the two languages are printed side by side for easy reference. I’ve also found it hard to find books printed in this format and I wish there were more.
     I read the story through strictly in English the first time, then went back and read it slowly in both languages more or less simultaneously, a “joint reading”. It is the story about a middle-aged man named Joe, the Midwestern son of a farmer in a mundane life who, just after a divorce, decides to vacation in the Dominican Republic. He tracks out on his own and discovers independent, organic coffee farmers surrounded and sandwiched in by corporate, industrial growers. Throwing caution to the wind, Joe abandons his teaching position and purchases a parcel of land. By pooling their resources, the collective is able to remain organic and even successfully enter into side ventures, further their educations and rejuvenate the cycle of Nature. It’s a sweet, human success story, with birdsongs used analogously throughout the story. 

     The Afterward is written by Julia’s husband, Bill Eichner, a former teacher, and they are both quick to explain that although they are also participating in a coffee collective in Dominica, this story is not autobiographical. OK, maybe a little: successful writers write about what they know. The message I got from this book is the importance of participating in a community, sharing your expertise and energy, and giving back to the community. 
     If I have a knock on the production, it is the occasional overuse of Spanish on the English side of the book. Some of the “leaps” into Spanish I find presumptuous and I think it should remain strictly English on one side and only Spanish on the other or you run the risk of losing readers.
     There are some wonderful woodcuts decorating the pages, created by Belkis Ramirez, a well known Dominican artist. It adds to the flavor of participation of the book. I’d love to see more like it. 
     All comments concerning this article are gladly welcome.

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