This first novel, Try to Remember, by Iris Gomez is a story of awkward, sometimes painful, transitions. Gabriela, the only daughter of Columbian immigrants, tells the story in first-person narrative of her father’s explosive journey into insanity. Caught between two cultures, Gabi is also caught between childhood and adulthood, wanting to be taken care of and sheltered, but having to act as translator, and caretaker for both parents. Set in the late 1960’s, the novel also explores some of the transitions our country was experiencing at that time: racial tensions, women’s rights, a war that no one wanted, and new ideas about drugs and sex.
Tucked into a metaphorical frame of the two years leading up to the Hurricane of 1971, and ending shortly after the storm, her “Papi”’s illness swells from being irritating, to being uncontrollable, and then subsiding with the actual storm. It reminds me of the structure of the poem, “The Sisters” by Alfred Lord Tennyson (We were two daughters of one race…) where the wind is blowing, then howling, then roaring, raging, raving, and finally merely blowing again. Gabi’s own emotions rise and finally ebb with the illness as she tries to remember her father as he used to be before his madness.
Gabi is muysympatica—and I appreciate her translating the frequent Spanish references for those of us who never progressed beyond first year Spanish. The author skillfully captures the varied moods and self-centered world of a young girl moving into adulthood. She is resentful of the time and energy her father demands. She is angry at her mother for her weaknesses. She begrudges the relative freedom her brothers enjoy merely because of their gender. Yet she is a likable, accessible young woman: as a reader, I felt I was providing her with an outlet—a shoulder on which to cry. This novel is a beautifully written coming -of-age story that gives insight into the Latina world, but also tells universal truths of growing up and breaking free and the accompanying exhilaration and apprehension those actions bring.
I really enjoyed and appreciated the artistry of this book. I rate it a 4.