Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Very Long Coffee Break

Last night was the December meeting of our book club.  We ate at Los Sombreros, an excellent, authentic Mexican restaurant in the East Valley.  (Fabulously fresh guacamole!)  The woman who suggested this month's book also selected the restaurant to stay with the Hispanic theme.

The book we read was Bitter Grounds, winner of the 1998 American Book Award.  The author is Sandra Benitez, who was born in El Salvador but attended high school and college in the United States.  This is the sort of novel that's generally described on the jacket as a "sweeping multi-generational epic."  It follows six Salvadoran women through the turbulent period from 1932 to 1977.  Three of the women are mother, daughter, and granddaughter of a poor peasant family; the other three are mother, daughter, and granddaughter from a family of wealthy landowners.  During the course of the book their lives intertwine ever more tightly, with ultimately tragic consequences for all of them.

What I liked: the characters were well-drawn; the language was beautiful and evocative; the plot was at times intricate but never confusing; and I learned much more than I had previously known about the culture and history of El Salvador.  What I didn't: when I have spent 444 pages, 45 years, and three generations with people I like, I prefer a happy ending.  Yes, the grim resolution was probably more realistic than a feel-good finish, but it left me feeling exhausted rather than satisfied.  Read this book when you are in the mood for Literature rather than escape.

"You say, but for the golden hope of coffee
few men would get ahead.
I say, when the people harvest,
all they reap is bitter grounds."
~Sandra Benitez, Bitter Grounds

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