Tuesday, January 31, 2012

La Perdida by Jessica Abel

La Perdida, by Jessica Abel, is the story of Carla, a young Mexican-American woman who moves to Mexico City to "find herself." While she initially spends the bulk of her time with American expats, she befriends numerous Mexican citizens and leaves her expatriate friends behind to experience a more "authentic" Mexico. When her time in Mexico begins, she barely speaks Spanish and idolizes Frida Kahlo. It doesn't take long for Carla to realize she'll gain no respect from her native Mexican friends by living on the outskirts of the culture. Soon she is entrenched in a party lifestyle with radical friends and a free flowing supply of cocaine, and it's all downhill from there.

The Mexico that Abel presents in La Perdida is not flattering in the slightest. The Mexican youths surrounding Carla are thugs and the relatives of drug lords. She doesn't realize it right off the bat, but it's one of many ways that Carla begins her journey with very little awareness of the culture surrounding her. And she's a bone head. She never seems rattled to be meeting drug lords or snorting coke. And she's not quite as disturbed that her boyfriend is dealing pot and not paying rent as I might be in the same situation. She chalks it all up to an "authentic" experience in Mexico.

When we're looking at issues of ethnicity, I suppose we could assume that by experiencing this story from Carla's point of view, we can see how Americans are less aware of...well, everything. Carla seems oblivious to most things -- mostly the bad things -- happening around her. It could be a critique of Americans' lack of  political and cultural awareness outside of our borders. In this way, the book could be considered clever.

But the book really sort of pissed me off. While there are real problems with drug cartels in Mexico, this whole story line just seemed a really easy way to go. Carla was a caricature. Mexico itself seemed a caricature. I suppose I would've rather experienced a more nuanced plot and characters that made observations in a unique way rather than a stereotypical one. Instead of investigating Mexican youth culture I got another drug lord story. Crocodile Dundee comes to mind...the second one, with the kidnapping and pistol whipping.

Blah.

This book was not a painful one to read. I enjoyed the characters' humor, and I like Abel's brush-stroke illustrations. It successfully emphasized the busy atmosphere in Mexico City and the rush of people in a large, metropolitan area. However, beyond the aesthetic, this one wasn't for me. 

Rating:
Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: May 2008
Publisher: Pantheon
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13:   978-0375714719 
Source: Purchased by me.

12 comments:

  1. I've been iffy on reading this book for a long time. When I first started doing graphic novel reviews I got an ad for it and have been picking it up and putting it down in bookstores ever since. Looks like I'll leave it on the shelf after all :-)

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  2. I don't think this is my cup of tea, but I do like the cover. ;)

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  3. Marie, this is one I would REALLY like your take on, actually. It was a quick read, fine to get into, interesting for the most part, but it left me with that icky stereotypical feeling -- as if she hadn't done Mexico justice.

    Anna, it's pretty, eh?? I liked it, too.

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  4. At one point in my life I can imagine being blase about such scenarios, but I think that at this point, Carla's lack of scruple would annoy me a lot. And what is the point of painting the characters and the setting in such a negative light? This book would probably be of interest to someone a lot younger and more wild than I am! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it today, Andi!

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  5. Heather, I'm glad you said that. I think as a younger reader I would've focused much more on the "finding oneself" portion of the book. In my 30s I honed right in on the element of the ridiculous and the stereotypes in this graphic novel. Amazing what a little time and experience will do. :)

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  6. I am thinking I will pass on this one. I did enjoy her other book, but this sounds very different.

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  7. Wow. Your take on this one is quite different than Ana's. I always find it so incredibly interesting when you get to see two different perspectives on a book, especially from two people you really respect. Oh book bloggers, how I love you...

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  8. Kelly, was it Life Sucks that you read? I liked that one a lot, too.

    Debi, thanks for bringing my attention to Ana's review. It was wonderfully written, and I can certainly see where she was coming from, but ultimately this one just didn't work as well for me. Like you, I love reading all the different opinions. :)

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  9. So annoying. I love books that explore the foreigner element -- but one that doesn't paint the world in broad, inaccurate strokes. The art looks lovely -- too bad the story doesn't match.

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  10. Ouch. That sounds painful. I'm impressed you finished it.

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  11. Audra, it was a bummer for me, but Ana from Things Mean a Lot had a very different take. It's a lot of fun to read various reviewers' thoughts on books because they can often differ so much.

    Meh. It was a quick read, Heather. It was just one of those books that left a bad aftertaste if that makes sense.

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  12. These stereotypes would definitely be a turn off for me and this sounds like it was too much of a presence to avoid. The fact that Carla's character essentially floated along would have grated on my nerves. I'm not much of a fan of graphic novels but I'll be counting this one out.

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