Chapter 7: Let’s Talk Spanish


The episode is very concise on terms of what’s going on, Luca and Lydia managed to get on a bus off Acapulco on the way to the DF, they feel very lucky they managed to make it this far; sometimes the cartels have roadblocks, and if stopped, they would be identified easy and murdered.

Lydia is afraid to go all the way to Mexico City, since is more likely roadblocks will show up in that route, so they get off in Chilpancingo, hit up an Internet cafe where she’s able to find the church that her husband’s friend is likely attending, and the time of the service. Lucky is about to start, so they head out there in hopes of finding him.

They meet Carlos and his wife Meredith in church, and he takes them to his house, where they can enjoy tea and chat more; they go over their stories more, adding that Meredith is from Estados Unidos, Indiana to be more specific, she’s a missionary. Carlos suggests that Lydia and Luca can hide on the next missionary van that is going to Mexico City to increase their chances of getting there alive.

Meredith, however, thinks is a bad idea, covering for them puts the missionaries at risk, and she doesn’t want to hurt them, and the future missions, is too risky. Carlos tells her to pray about it, and the chapter concludes.


Overall this chapter does very little to advance the story, but it tries to paint a picture of their relationship, friends and the situation, Lydia reminisces her time traveling to Mexico with her husband, learning about Carlos and Meredith and the way they interacted in the past provides a glimpse into their lives that is expected to seed some empathy for the characters. 

I had a lot of strong negative reactions while reading this chapter, that I tried to tie together in a neat manner, but failed to do so, so I will share them here with no particular order or cohesion in mind: 

— On the second page, of the chapter, the book says “Sebastián, sweaty, laughing, tangled in the sheets, would whisper into his wife’s hair”  Either the publishers left a typo get pass them, or the author, tired of describing things in a way that’s natural and normal, has decided to break the mold and coin a new metaphor, one that is convoluted, pointless and absurd, just like the rest of this book. Brevity is the soul of wit, and this book has neither brevity, soul or wit. Tho we know there are typos, because in page 60 it says Taburnáculo.

— Gabacha, The author uses words in Spanish, sprinkled here and there, with no narrative value, to conceal her ignorance of the Mexican reality, and pretend that she could belong on this story. When a pretentious author uses unnecessary big words, those words, are not intended to help the story move forward, often they make the story worse, is confusing to the reader, and they exists only so that the author can disguise its insecurity by pretending to be smarter than they are, the more obscure the word, the more satisfied the author feels, thinking they are deceiving the audience, when in reality their writing is just contrived.

Carlo’s wife is described as gabacha when she’s greeting people in church. In Colombia we’d refer to that word placement as rebuscada (sorry for copying the author’s style, tho in my defense there’s no English equivalent for this word), the author found this word, maybe liked the way it sounded, and misplaced it there. I picked up this word more than others, because when the author throws around words like mami or papi, we can assume that the English speaking reader can deduct what the word means, but why use a word that has a very particular meaning to a specific group, adds absolutely no narrative value, and its meaning is hard to deduce, even after a google search. Is the wife French? Is the wife from the USA? Is the wife an apron? Does she have trouble speaking Spanish?  A couple pages later we learn her name, and that she’s from Indiana, and the book focuses on her for a few paragraphs; but in those two minutes from seeing the word Gabacha, until learning that Meredith is from Indiana, I couldn’t but wonder, why introduce a seemingly important character, in such a brief and confusing way. She might as well have used any word, or not even a word, a random combination of characters, or another word misspelled, like Taburnaculo. 

— I have a problem with the dialogue on the book, I’m trying to immerse in the story, I picture a Mexican person talking to a Mexican person, talking in Mexican Spanish, and the author being an observer of this conversation, and translating what is happening, so that the reader can get a glimpse on the life of these strangers, and sympathize with a reality that is foreign; strangers who are not just Lydia and Carlos, but presumably every Mexican who is trying to come to the US, fleeing violence and persecution by the narcos. However the words used by the author in this case, the sentences, and their speed, is nothing at all similar to the way Mexicans speak, further proving the unfamiliarity of the author with Mexicans and the story she’s trying to describe.

Lydia replies to Carlos in one of their conversations with: “Could is an understatement”. That is not something that can be easily translated back into Spanish. (“Pudieran es una atenuación”?)  Is not something anyone would say, much less in those circumstances. To me, it further proves that this book is poorly written, bad fiction, and undeserving of all the praise it has received. 

— what perspective is the book being written from, the narrator uses the word mami many times, implying to me that the narrator would be Luca. Unless there’s a ghost descendant of Lydia in the mix following them around, we can assume that there’s no consistent narrator throughout the book, which is a huge oversight and another sign of an amateur writer, more concerned with presenting a condescending portrayal of a mom and her son fleeing violence, than she is with writing a good book. We know Luca is not the narrator, because the narrator refers to him in third person several times across the chapter, like when describing his lack of “active participation of abstention on his part” or the pointless inclusion of him knowing the word.

— Meredith, la Gabacha, is the most believable character on this chapter, meaning: her backstory, her motivations, her dialogue, her plight, are very convincing. When Meredith speaks I wanna sympathize with her, and I don’t want Lydia and Luca jumping in that van with those kids from Indiana. Not only as a mere reader, but also as a Colombian who interacted with many US missionaries as a kid. 

When I was younger, and didn’t really understood what some folks were doing in my country I was a lot more appreciative of them, mostly idolized them; in a way, owe them a lot, missionaries like Meredith helped some of us learn English and get familiar with other cultures, at the time when nobody would immigrate to Colombia because of how violent and dangerous it was. 

— Jeanine Cummings is a bad writer, she can’t write convincing characters who are not like her, and we can tell, because the Mexican folks in the book are very poorly written, but the white lady from Indiana, who has white savior complex, is very well written.

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