Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Before the Rain by Luisita López Torregrosa

Title: Before the Rain: A Memoir of Love and Revolution
Author: Luisita López Torregrosa

Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir / 1980s / Philippines / Journalist / Homosexuality / Romantic Affair )
Publisher/Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (8/7/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay to liked, depending on my mood.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A newspaper editor's intense affair with a journalist during the violent elections between Marcos/Aquino in 1980s Philippines.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's so very striking and pretty, and doesn't sensationalize the romance between Torregrosa and her lover Elizabeth (although with those big ole O'Keefe-ian blossoms, there's certainly a sapphic suggestion).

I'm reminded of...: Jeanette Winterson

First line: In the years since that first letter came, postmarked New Delhi and written on pale lavender Claridges Hotel stationery, I have begun this story a hundred times, and each time I was afraid.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you're a memoir addict.

Why did I get this book?: In high school, I wanted desperately to be an international journalist and so Torregrosa's memoir sounded perfect for vicarious arm-chair wish fulfillment.

Review: This is a memoir that reads like a novel, and that's both a good and bad thing. Torregrosa has a sinuous, vague, slippery style of writing that I love in a good novel (I was reminded a bit of early '90s Jeannette Winterson) but feels a bit incomplete in a memoir. This story of 'love and revolution' had plenty of revolution -- on an international and interpersonal scale -- but I felt a real lack of love in Torregrosa's narrative.

Which leads me back to my original complaint. Were this a novel -- with some exploration into the motivations of our two heroines -- I would be all over this. But as a memoir, I wanted more from Torregrosa: I wanted her to go deeper in her recounting and analysis of her relationship and that juxtaposition with the tumultuous world of 1980s Philippines and international journalists.

There's an enormous distance between Torregrosa and the reader due to her writing style.  A little dreamy, very much removed, Torregrosa sums up weeks at a time with a small paragraph.  She recounts other people's words but never offers her own direct statements.  The moment when (I think) she and her married lover consummated their relationship felt obfuscated, as if Torregrosa didn't want to write about it but felt like she had to.

In many ways, this felt like an homage to a relationship rather than a memoir of a life, as Torregrosa's obvious affection and gratitude toward her lover, Elizabeth, spills out from every page. She writes very poetically about Elizabeth but I never got to 'know' the woman -- which would be fine if I got to know Torregrosa. Instead, I felt at arm's length from both women, watching their squabbles uncomfortably, and drinking in the gorgeous landscapes around them. (Torregrosa can evoke place like a song; its wonderful.)

This book reminded me of those 'gay classics' one gobbles up when first coming out, desperate for someone to relate to and, let's be honest, some sex. And like those classics -- like Rubyfruit Jungle and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit -- they're lovely, moody books that aren't nearly as gay as one wants them to be.

All this and I still liked the book in many ways; I just wanted more. Shelf Awareness loved this one and found it passionate, so it may be that I focused on the wrong themes with this reading. In another moment, I might see it as deeply passionate. Still, I enjoyed very real look at international journalism Torregrosa offered; this is armchair escape of the first order.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer one lucky a reader a copy of Before the Rain! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 9/7.



28 comments:

  1. I am iffy with memoirs but the ones that read like a novel are my preference if I am to read one at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You'll really enjoy this one, then -- it's wonderful in that way!

      Delete
  2. I will be reading this one soon, and am interested in the way you describe it as a memoir of a love affair rather than a life. I wonder if I would feel the same way that you did about it? It will be interesting to read this one having read your comments about the book in your review. I think you gave it great coverage, and I liked that you were able to separate your feelings from what the books aimed to do. Thanks for the very intriguing review today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't wait to see what you think of it! As I get away from the book, I get crankier, but when I was thumbing through it again to write my review, I was reminded of how lovely the language was. This is one I feel complicated things for!

      Delete
  3. It seems like the author was holding something back whilst writing this? I agree with you, in a memoir you do want quite a deep examination of the issues. On a shallow note though, I love the cover!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The cover is really marvelous. I do think she was holding back -- perhaps because her (now ex) lover is still alive, something like that -- and I'm torn, of course, about whether that makes this a good book or bad. Lots of novels have distance between the reader and characters which can be quite good -- it makes us impatient, and hungry, reminds us of their aloofness -- and I don't think a memoirist must give all in writing their memoir. So I'm really torn and my feelings for this one seriously flip flop!

      Delete
  4. Not being able to bond with the protagonist would be an issue for me, I'm sure. The setting is very intriguing and, if done well, I could see how the tale could be really moving. Sorry to hear it wasn't all you wanted it to be!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The setting is amazing -- very evocative. As I mentioned above to Sam, I'm torn about whether the distance was a problem or not since I don't mind it novels. I'm very conflicted about this book!

      Delete
  5. I do love a good memoir. Your description makes me think this one's good, but not great. I'd still like to give it a try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Others found it to be great so I do think it's a bit that I'm just being weirdly picky!

      Delete
  6. I feel like many memoirs kind of suffer this connection deficiency. To write openly and honestly about one's life and then throw it out there for the whole world to inhale must be terrifying. Still, this novel sounds like something I'd love to try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes -- I can't imagine how vulnerable one must feel writing a memoir and I don't mind differing styles -- not every one must be a 'tell all' -- but I just wanted a leeeetle bit more from this one.

      Delete
  7. I do really like the cover but after reading your review I do not think this book is for me.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Memoirs can be tough to enjoy since they, more than anything else, rely on a reader's connection to the narrator/author. The cover is gorgeous though, even if this is one I do not choose to read. Thanks for your opinions!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think for the right reader, this will work well -- and I might even be that reader -- knowing it's less about her relationship and more about ... I don't know, remembering it -- I can go back and wallow in Torregrosa's lovely language.

      Delete
  9. These are the kinds of memoir that I really love. And its set during those tumultuous political times...I like that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The descriptions of 1980s Manila and NYC were wonderful -- time travel armchair travel!

      Delete
  10. "Torregrosa can evoke place like a song" - I would read this book based on that comment alone.

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You'll be in for a treat -- the narrative is stunning!

      Delete
  11. I really loved what you said about this one. I'm not typically drawn to memoirs, but knowing this one is more novel-like intrigues me. Conversely, I'm not terribly familiar with the setting, so detail would be helpful. Also, I wanted to be an international journalist in high school too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If only it had a more novel-ish conclusion, I think I would have been in love with this one -- I wanted more resolution. Otherwise, this was a fabu read.

      Delete
  12. You had me at the comparison to Jeanette Winterson!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Then you will loooooooooooove this one!

      Delete
  13. It could be also (cynical me coming out here) that Shelf Awareness was fine with not too much gay :P That being said, disappointing it wasn't more, but it does sound interesting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I heart you for your cynical self! :) At least one GoodReads reviewer made a point to talk about how distasteful she found the f/f relationship so for folks who 'felt' it, it clearly was there -- it just didn't stand out for me.

      Delete
  14. I agree with you one hundred percent. I'm also on the tour for this (my post's going up tomorrow), and I was curious to see what the other folks on the tour thought. The first person I looked at wrote a beautiful post about how wonderful Before the Rain is, and I do agree with a lot of the points made and am impressed with the intelligence of the arguments, I just didn't have the same reaction. In your post, I see more how I felt.

    I thought Before the Rain was beautifully written, but for all the talk of passion, I simply felt none from Luisita coming through to me as a reader. A lot of historical events are glossed over, but there's no detail. Elizabeth and Luisita obviously have a satisfying sexual life but there were no overt references to sex in it. They would simply be in bed or kiss one another's cheeks. Your descriptors of vague and slippery are perfect and explain why I spent most of the book bored.

    It totally should have been more gay. She probably lightened that up so as not to alienate readers, but the kind of people who would be alienated by an f/f relationship still are going to be, even if there isn't much detail.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your response -- I'm glad I'm not the only one. I read a review on GoodReads by someone who hated how f/f it was (!!) and so it made me really doubt myself -- Luisita's relationship felt so obfuscated! As a result, it felt very melancholy to me -- what was she hiding? why was she so reserved? what went wrong? -- and so the fire of passion was really absent. I'll check out your review tomorrow! (Just started following your blog!)

      Delete