Memory Mambo describes the life of Juani Casas, a 25-year-old Cuban-born American lesbian who manages her family's laundromat in Chicago while trying to cope with family, work, love, sex, and the weirdness of North American culture.
Achy Obejas's writing is sharp and mordantly funny. She understands perfectly how the romance of exile - from a homeland as well as from heterosexuality - and the mundane reality of everyday life balance each other. Memory Mambo is ultimately very moving in its depiction of what it means to find a new and finally safe sense of home.
©1996 Cleis Press (P)2012 Cleis Press
This book on tape sounded as if it was being read to me by Siri. I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't actually read by a human at all. The inflections were all wrong and the timing and rhythm of her voice sounded strange to the degree that it was difficult to pay attention to what she was saying.
Great book. Terrible narrator.
The book is insightful, occasionally well written, and original.
The narration is uncomfortable and distracts from Achy Obejas' novel. A good narrator will disappear into the story; a great narrator will bring life and feeling to the text. Not so with Ruth Oakes. I literally missed moments of this novel, because I was so distracted by the narrator's errors and strange intonation. Other reviewers have already pointed out that the narrator's halting pace and sing-song voice. But nobody has noticed the OTHER problem with this narrator: She can't pronounce Spanish. Why hire a narrator who can't pronounce any of the characters' names or half their dialogue? And given the mispronunciations, it's cringe-inducing to listen to her fake a Cuban-American accent.
It helps to hear the character voices. It brings the story to life.
The drama of the final chapters.
She brings the story to life.
The Chronicles of Cuban families' transition to America
Although there were interesting aspects to Memory Mambo, I didn't find the story engrossing, or unique in any way. However contrary to the previous reviewer's assessment of the narration, I thought the narrator struck just the right chords in telling the story. Often I am put off by narrators who are more interested in showing their vocal skills than in telling the story. This narrator served the story with clear diction and an easy forward moving flow, without calling attention to herself as the narrator.
I might try another book by Ms. Obejas; her language showed promise and she was able to present clearly drawn characters.
As alluded to above, Ruth Oakes helps the forward movement of the plot by tuning into the the rhythms of the author's language. It feels as if we are reading the novel, but we are gently coaxed along, expecially in those instances when the novel slows.
Juani Casas is a 25-year-old Cuban American exile living in Chicago with her family and managing the family business, a lavanderia (laundromat). Throughout the novel, she interrogates the nature of memory as she constructs and deconstructs various “memories” in an effort to understand how they shape her and the people around her.
Juani and her family fled Cuba when she was very young, so her recollections of the place are mostly vague, colorful images or narrative sequences that she’s technically too young to remember. “Cuba” thus takes on mythic proportions for her: it is the place where she thinks she can discover the missing pieces of herself and thereby feel whole at last. Although she doesn’t physically visit Cuba in the novel, a key element of her growth and self-discovery is her gradual decision to leave the lavanderia and travel to Cuba, after which she hopes to embark on some sort of career of her own.
Juani’s relationship to her family is similar to those of many immigrant children struggling to navigate biculturalism. The family is extremely close-knit—almost a self-sufficient community of their own—and Juani must learn how to differentiate herself from her family while still maintaining their mutual love and connection.
My favorite aspect of the novel is how colorfully Obejas draws her characters. Her background in short-story writing serves her well. Aside from Juani, the characters are not necessarily all that complex, but they're entertaining and fairly easy to remember from chapter to chapter—Caridad, the battered wife; Jimmy, her sleazebag husband; Gina, Juani's semi-closeted lover who got away; etc. I'm almost sorry that I won't be hearing more about them, now that I've finished the book.
The emotional affect of the narration was way off. At first, I seriously wondered whether I was listening to a computer program reading instead of a person. Even after the narration developed a little more vocal variety, the emotions failed to match the words being read (a moment of trauma would sound like an amusing anecdote, for example). I only made it to the end of the audiobook because I needed to for a project. *Memory Mambo* appears to be the only book available on Audible from this narrator so far, so maybe the painful sing-song was due to a first-timer's nerves or inexperience. Whatever the reason, the shoddy narration very nearly ruined this book for me ... be forewarned.
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