Tag-Archive for ◊ Barnard College ◊

Author:
• Tuesday, June 09th, 2009

Cristina Garcia was born in Havana, Cuba in 1958. After Fidel Castro came to power in the early sixties, she moved with her parents to New York and following an early Catholic education, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 1979 at Barnard College, at Columbia University. She later entered the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University in Baltimore and in 1981 obtained a master’s degree in International Relations.

In the early eighties, Garcia worked for several publications: the Boston Globe for a short time, then United Press International, The Knoxville Journal in Tennessee and The New York Times. She was a correspondent at Time magazine in New York city in 1983 and also worked in San Francisco, Miami and Los Angeles.

In 1990 Cristina Garcia decided to devote her time to writing fiction in order to highlight the life of Cuban immigrants in the United States. In 1984 she travelled to Cuba to meet her relatives for the first time and five years later her trip provided her with the incentive to start writing her first book, Dreaming in Cuban, published in 1992, followed by The Agüero Sisters published in 1997 and Monkey Hunting in 2003.

Cristina Garcia has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University and the recipient of a Whiting writer’s award. In 1990 Garcia married Scott Brown, with whom she had a daughter, Pilar born in 1992. Garcia now lives with her daughter in Santa Monica.

The novel of The Agüero Sisters is made up of several family stories (with multiple narrators) interlaced with each other in the past and the present. It’s the rich complex story of Constancia and Reina Agüero, the two very different sisters, who were separated for thirty years.

Reina is forty eight years old, tall, dark and beautiful, liberated and a skilled master electrician,who supported the revolution and therefore remained in Havana. While her sister is the fifty one year-old Constancia, the pale, petite and conservative wife and business woman who immigrated with her husband to the United States after the Cuban revolution and adopted her new country’s culture.

What they both have in common is the intriguing, haunting and mysterious death of their mother and father, who both died many years ago, but whose memory still lives vividly with them after leaving them to inherit half truths, secrets and lies.

The author describes the Cuban landscape in detail, but not much detail is provided about Cuba before and after Fidel Castro took power. The novel mainly relates the lives of Cuban-Americans and the mysteries and myths that they carry with them and the beautiful American dream. There is also the uneasy relationship between children and parents and the hard-to-resolve question of identity.

Cristina Garcia is interested in emotional inheritance “and how those get played out subjectively in different times and places.” She said the beauty of being a novelist is that you can explore your obsessions at length.

Despite the jumps back and forth in time, the prologue gives us the main theme of the novel.

Although Garcia has an elegant style of writing and a fine description of characters, her plot is incomplete. She never reveals why Ignacio kills Blanca and two years later commits suicide. Nor has the author explained the reasons for Blanca’s disappearance and returning to her husband and child, heavily pregnant by another man, who remains anonymous throughout the book. The characters of Constancia and Reina’s daughters are neither fully developed nor do they contribute much to the story.

Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable, colourful book to read.

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Author:
• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London in 1967 but moved to Rhode Island USA with her parents at the age of two. She received a B.A. in English literature from Barnard College, an M.A. in English from Boston University as well as an M.A. in Creative Writing, in comparative studies in literature and arts, and a Ph.D. in Renaissance studies. She taught creative writing at Boston university and the Rhode Island school of design.

Jhumpa Lahiri has written only two books to date: her short stories “Interpreter of Maladies” published in 1999. It became a best-seller in no time, was translated into 29 languages, and won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the first time to have been won by an Indian. She also won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the New Yorker Debut of the Year award, and a nomination for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Her second book “The Namesake”, published in 2003, is her first novel. The New Yorker has published two of her stories: “Nobody’s Business” in 2001 and “Hell and Heaven” in 2004. The New Yorker named her one of the 20 best writers under the age of 40.

Jhumpa Lahiri lives and works in Brooklyn with her Guatemalan American husband, Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, who works as a deputy editor for the Time Latin America and their son Octavio. She was married in 2001. Her parents live three hours away from her home. Her father is a librarian and her mother a professor of Bengali. She also has a younger sister.

Her real name is Nilanjana Svdeshna. Jhumpa is her nick-name. “The Namesake” is being filmed and is to be released in 2006.

“The Namesake”, J.L.’s first novel, deals with more than one theme: the difficulty for immigrants to adapt to a new life far away from home, the clash between different cultures and the problem of integration. Ashoke and Ashima, newly married in Calcutta, move to Cambridge Massachusetts for Ashoke to continue his studies and obtain an MIT engineering degree. Ashoke is more supple and open-minded vis-à-vis the American way of life than his wife, Ashima who will never be able to accept this new culture thrust on her. During the 32 years from 1968 to 2000 we come across the struggle of the Bengali second generation immigrants and their search for identity.

Jhumpa Lahiri says in one of her interviews: “The question of identity is always a difficult one, but especially so for those who grow up in two worlds simultaneously, as is the case for their children. The older I get, the more I am aware that I have somehow inherited a sense of exile from my parents, even though in many ways I am so much more American than they are. In fact, it is still very hard to think of myself as an American. (This is of course complicated by the fact that I was born in London.) I think that for immigrants, the challenges of exile, the loneliness, the constant sense of alienantion, the knowledge of, and longing for a lost world, are more explicit and distressing than for their children. On the other hand, the problem for the children of immigrants – those with strong ties to their country of origin – is that they feel neither one thing nor the other. This has been my experience in any case.”

When asked which country was her motherland, JL replied: “None”, “No country is my motherland. I always find myself in exile in whichever country I travel to. That’s why I was always tempted to write something about those living their lives in exile”, she said.

Reading this would explain her deeply moving way of describing her characters and their various conflicts, especially the main character, Gogol, who had been given a nick-name – a Bengali tradition – which is neither Indian, nor American, and not even a first name but a Russian surname. He was named after the Russian writer, Nicolaï Gogol, his father’s favourite author and also rescuer from the train accident in India. People saw the father in the train’s wreckage thanks to the father holding Gogol’s collection of short stories. Gogol hated his nickname, which became his official name, and felt relieved to go and have it changed to Nikhil.

Jhumpa Lahiri says: “The original spark for the book was the fact that a friend of my cousin’s in India had the pet name, Gogol. I wanted to write about the pet name, good name distinction for a long time, and I know I needed the space of a novel to explore the idea.” The idea has been very well explored in depth in addition to the immigration/assimilation problem.

The description of the characters is quite detailed and charming, like Ashima’s examining her future husband’s shoes in the lobby of her parents’ house before walking into the sitting room.

Gogol grows up to be an intelligent, well educated man, but feels helplessly lost. He has a good, promising job and yet can’t find his way in life. He was born and grew up in America from Benghali parents with an odd name that he didn’t appreciate and which became his real name. He had a bad experience with an American young lady and a hurtful one from his Benghali wife, which led to divorce.

He is the main character in the book and the very touching one. Through Gogol we live the trials and tribulations of the Ganguli family. The style of the narration is elegant and so is the prose. All the events are described in great detail. Even the description of the different Indian dishes are mouth watering. It’s all very endearing and very life like.

Full circle is reached when Nikhil discovers among the books his mother piled in a box to give away to the library, the long forgotten volume that his father once gave him as a birthday present and which he never even looked at. Suddenly Nikhil felt the urge to discover “The Collection of Short Stories” by Nikolaï Gogol. Like his grandfather and his father before him, Nikhil has embarked on a new discovery.

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