Thursday, January 12, 2012

{Review} Flirting in Spanish by Susan McKinney de Ortega

Kindle Edition, 2010
Genres: adult non-fiction, autobiography, memoir, romance, spirituality, travel, women's fiction

Synopsis (via Publishers Weekly): Running from paralyzing memories of an attempted rape and the decade of silence and shame that followed, Ortega lands in Mexico at 33, trying not to fall for a much younger local. In 1992 the author, the daughter of champion NBA coach Jack McKinney, was teaching English to Mexican teenagers when she met 19-year-old Carlos, who ardently pursues her despite the age and huge cultural differences. She resists at first, due to their divergent backgrounds--Ortega's childhood was one of summer vacation rentals and white gloves at Mass, while Carlos was a high school dropout who didn't have running water until age 10. But when she realizes that she is surprised a man could be kind to her like her father, "I didn't feel like a nervous wreck of a person anymore." It's not an instant happy ending as Ortega contends with the extreme poverty Carlos and his family live in, the machismo culture, and her own lingering doubts, with one foot in Mexico and the other wavering. When she finally achieves hard-won contentment, it's a joyous moment.

My review: I enjoyed this book immensely from the minute I picked it up until I finished it this morning. It is not a large book, but it is one I took my time reading because I wanted to savor the story as much as possible. In fact, towards the end I found myself procrastinating a little about finishing it because I simply didn't want the story to end.
I immediately liked Susan; I found her very relatable, laid back, with a writing style that is not self-conscious in the least (unfortunately a feature of some memoirs). In fact, it is an easy, even mix of stream-of-consciousness and objective yet vivid observations about her surroundings, acquaintances, and the local social scene and customs. San Miguel is still a relatively small town, comprised of about 59,691 inhabitants as of the 2000 census {source}, so throughout the book Susan and Carlos tend to gravitate towards the same places time and again:

to El Jardin, the main square, for example, as seen from atop the...{source}
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel.

Instead of the descriptions of these places becoming tedious, however, Susan makes them feel familiar, homey and ever-richer. By the end of the book the reader is so familiar with these locales it is as if he or she has visited San Miguel in person.
Perhaps what I appreciate the most about this book is its honesty. Susan broaches difficult subjects with skill and sincerity, sharing her thoughts, feelings and reactions in a genuine and mature way. Throughout the book Susan struggles with the trauma of an attempted rape from several years before, essentially the reason she lost her way and ended up in Mexico in the first place. After she meets Carlos and begins to assimilate into San Miguel local culture, Susan begins to realize how many differences there are between the American and Mexican cultures, not the least of which being much stricter gender roles in the latter. She and Carlos also have their share of difficulties after committing to one another and to a family of their own. But you know? Never once when she was telling her story did I feel she was throwing herself a pity party, and while there were dramatic moments, they were very appropriate for that part of her story and never passed into the dreaded territory of melodrama.
The love story between Susan and Carlos is such a joy to read, they are so truly in love with each other. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to read this book is because they have been committed to each other for many years, happily raising 2 children who are now both in their teens. Their relationship is proof that an age difference, even one of fourteen years, does not automatically spell doom. They have proven that cultural and socioeconomic differences do not have to determine the success of a relationship either.

One last thing: Susan has a hilarious sense of humor and irony, which complement the serious issues she delves into. Flirting in Spanish is such a well-balanced book that the story develops at a consistent rate throughout, preventing the book from getting slow. I do my best to read every book with an unprejudiced mind, but even so, I wasn't expecting to be so taken with this one. It left me feeling very uplifted and, well, so very happy for Susan and Carlos. All I can say is even if memoirs aren't typically your thing, you may find you like this one anyway. It's definitely worth reading.

Don't forget to enter for your chance to win an ebook copy of Flirting in Spanish! To go to the giveaway, CLICK HERE.

Thank you for stopping by and happy reading!

Mary Beth
San Miguel de Allende {source}

Note: I received an ebook copy of Flirting in Spanish at no charge from the author in exchange for my honest rating and review.

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