Carmel Magazine

Carmel Magazine Spring 2014

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Page 43 of 163

Anthropologies: A Family Memoir by Beth Alvarado A s surely as candy rains from col- orful piñatas at the birthday par ties of Mexican children, Beth Alvarado's memoir will fall into your dreams. Against her parents' wishes, at age 19, the young narrator marries Fernando and is subsumed into his Mexican-American family, where he is the oldest of nine children. Twelve people share the small tract home on the south side of Tucson, a house where there is never any silence. Alvarado gives us this tapestry of tales in a series of drenched snapshots— dreamlike—the way we might imag- ine the visual of life flashing before our eyes when we die. The result is a poetic, hypnotic and haunting page-turner, laced with themes of addiction, class, ethnicity, prejudice, familial obligation, allegiance and loss. So colorful is the world of Fernando's family, it is no wonder the young Beth is drawn to him and the whole rich palette of his parents, siblings, ancestors, and their mythology. Alvarado makes readers believe, as she believed, that love is pre-ordained, that if a boy meets you first in a vision, and later recognizes you as the girl from that vision—"the white girl in a brown dress"— then it is fated you will marry, and you do. When he later dreams that you will have two children, each with seven letters in the name, you make this true, too: Michael, Kathryn. Early on, when Alvarado is the object of discrimination, she says to Fernando: "I can't help it if I'm white. I'm not responsible for all the misery in the world." And Fernando responds: "White people aren't the only ones who can be prejudiced." Much later, when the narrator loses her niece in a car accident and cannot reconcile the tragedy of it, she says to Fernando, "How did this happen? Why did this happen?" Her niece has left behind a two-year-old who survived the accident. Fernando says, "These kinds of things happen all the time. Only this time, it happened to your family." There is wis- dom and a stark truth to Fernando's responses, his take on the world. It would be hard to say what I admire most about this gorgeous book. But perhaps it is this: the way she man- ages a huge cast of characters within a very minimalist style, and the way the author con- cocts a memoir in which she isn't even the main character. Alvarado is observer, conduit and scribe. The book acknowledges peril, its persist- ence, and offers in response one whispered 42 C A R M E L M A G A Z I N E • S P R I N G / S U M M E R 2 0 1 4 IN REVIEW B Y M E L A N I E B I S H O P A Colorful Take on Family Drama, A Memoir of Renewal and Modern Parenting Beth Alvarado's memoir "Anthropologies" takes a blunt look at the harsh realities of family life. 042-043 Book Reviews_Layout 4/21/14 9:38 AM Page 1

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