The Distance Between Us, Reyna Grand, Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. by Reyna Grande 325pp., $25
A review-Esther Bradley-DeTally
Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us (a memoir)rocks.
In January, 1980, a time of tremendous poverty and economic hardship in Mexico, Reyna is four years old, as her mother leaves for El Otro Lado, the Other Side, to join her husband to work, to help him fulfill his dreams of leaving something to his children. He had left his native country with high expectations, to make money, earn a living, and build a home in Mexico for his family. Reyna knows her father as the man, a paper face, behind a wall of glass. She calls him The Man Behind the Glass, which photo she takes with her on a move from her mother’s house to her Abuela’s house, a photograph which she grabs and keeps for herself. He left when she was two, and she will hold tightly to any image or remembrance of her father.
Mago, her sister, is eight and a half. Carlos , her brother, is about to turn seven, and Mago is asked by her mother to be Carlos and Reyna’s little mother. They will remain behind in the village under the care of a bitter, and abusive grandmother. Their mother will go in and out of their lives, but in essence, they are alone. Mago shines in her kindness, amazing wisdom and actions towards her young sister. The siblings remain tightly intertwined. They are badly treated by the grandmother.
This memoir is rich in description of dirt floors, of hunger, of never enough food, of dirt, of poverty, and of precious few people who help them. The children solidify into one unit, each helping the other. Theirs is a hardscrabble life, Dickensian in elements, and a reviewer couples Grande’s story of the children, with FrankMcCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. The stories are similar, but Reyna Grand’s use of language encompasses Mexican history and culture, and images are philosophical but highly translatable through her child’s mind. The mother will return, and then leave. The father will show up and take them back to Los Angeles. Natalio her father is a man of conflicts.Schooling in Los Angeles, struggle in Highland Park, adjustments to a new country, and yet the sisters and brother remain close.
One theme is of struggle, the struggle of understanding cruelty, conflict, family ties. I picked this book up and inhaled it. It is more than just a personal story. It reflects the epic struggles and mutual themes reflecting all who had to leave their native country and come to the United States. This book is eloquent and courageous.
A final quirky note. I checked my computer this afternoon. I was engrossed in the memoir, but somehow checked a Face Book page and message, and a response by Reyna Grande popped up; a response to a friend’s FB entry. I emailed the author, “I’m reading your book right now!” And so, my view of a rich courageous memoir, a few modest words about same and my intent to check out her other two books, Dancing with Butterflies, and Across a Hundred Mountains,is put on a to do list.