July 23, 2007

Eric B. Martin's "The Virgin's Guide to Mexico" - Studying A Role Reversal?

Eric B. Martin', in his novel "The Virgin's Guide to Mexico" tries to capture the 'south of the border' experience through his 17 year old, part-Mexican, Harvard-bound heroine, Alma Price. She is born to a rich American father and a Mexican mother whose past is shrouded in mystery. A 'not-so-good-looking but intelligent girl,' Alma ventures to cross the border disguised as a boy and without the knowledge of her parents to explore her roots in Mexico; specifically a grandfather who she is not sure is even alive. It is this journey of Alma into and through Mexico, and the pursuit of her by her parents that constitutes the storyline of the novel.

The storyline is perhaps the most interesting part of the novel even though it often lacks depth. Eric Martin could have done a lot more in terms of the plot given that he had an interesting array of characters at his disposal. For example Hermelinda, the Mexican mother of Alma, remains an enigma to the very last; why she plays down her past never becomes clear! Similarly, the family dynamics within the Price household are left hazy since Martin underexposes the interactions between Alma and her family. It is only in Mexico that Alma really fructifies in the reader's imagination. In fact the story moves at a much faster pace and with zest only after Alma is in the heart of Mexico, striving to fit into the alien but more open Mexican lifestyle. The dual point-of-view narrative that Martin uses, with both Alma and Hermelinda trying to tell their story, doesn't make it any easier for the reader who is already a trifle weary.

Despite all the above, I enjoyed reading the novel mainly because of the lively cast of characters that Martin provides us with once Alma enters Mexico; Dean, Lee, the transvestite, the prostitutes. Alma's interactions with all these characters makes for some sprightly reading. Also, having pondered over the title, I found new respect for this novel despite it's various shortcomings. Martin has 'virginized' his novel in more ways than one; Alma, his heroine is a 'virgin' embarking on her 'virgin' venture, sans parents, sans itinerary, into a world that's 'virgin' not just to her but to most Americans who only hear of border crossings from Mexico into USA; however, this crossing is 'virgin' in that it's an American Alma crossing over into land south of the border!' For any American reading this novel , the journey of Alma would be a first, and definitely traumatic since the roles of 'native' and 'immigrant' would now be reversed; an ill equipped American desperately trying to survive in a foreign land, among a people so obviously different, and where the ground rules of social interaction are completely unknown to her. Alma truly does need a 'guide' to figure out the mysteries of Mexico!

Finding out whether Alma succeeds or otherwise would be contingent on you reading the book, which I recommend you do only if you don't have a better book on your list.


Dr. Deb said...

You amaze me. I envy your ability to read and absorb as much as you do. You are my hero!

Anonymous said...

A title well kept atleast. The books you suggest mostly have one thing in common - they are not based in US. :)

I am reading Ishmael Beah's Long way gone. Just started it and its interesting

ps: TT room is table tennis room

thethoughtless said...

That's an interesting observation you made,hehe. A shrink might read more into that!
I've heard conflicting feed backs about Beah's book so I'm still undecided about picking it up. Also, I read an extensive interview of his in the National Geographic a few months ago so I fear reading his memoir might be repetitive. However, I'd be curious to know what you feel about the book after you finish it.

_Jonathan_ said...

Oh my god... u're my hero too...
How can u read these books in a few days??...

Great review... but is not my tipe of book.

take care...

D said...

Are u going to review "Harry Potter" too? Thanks to you I come across as a well read guy when I meet people and discuss all those books you've reviewd with the so called 'intellectual' masses :-)

AVIANA said...

hmmmm..it sounds like a great read until you say read it if you don't have a better book to read... lol

that's kind of funny...thanks for the review

and even more so, thank you for your comments...they were really appreciated.. :)

have a nice day!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Id!

This was another beautiful review, thank you!

The title is eye-catching no doubt and the word "virgin" has more than just a passing significance to the novel, so well done to the author (or whoever is responsible for picking the title) for coming up with that one.

I'm glad you liked the characters for they can usually make or break a story. Alma certainly sounds like a gutsy girl (and so young too) and full marks to her taking on such an adventure!

I love reading books that are set outside of North America, so this one just might go on my list.

BTW, I managed to mooch an Elif Shafak novel, not the one you reviewed (still working on that) but her previous one titled "The Gaze", have you read it?

Id it is said...

lotus reads,
You would enjoy this novel, and I'd love to know your take on this piece!

I remember this novel of Shafak's you mention; I glanced through it only recently after having read 'The Bastard of Istambul", but the psychological angle to the novel, or so I thought, threw me off. Let me know your thoughts after you're done with it.

Shirazi said...

This seems to be a lovely read. Thanks for sharing.