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.


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. 

Snuggle -- Skewer

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

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