Sunday, August 29, 2010

Review: Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart has written many different books: a memoir about her son's early years, another memoir on the topic of friendship, YA fiction books, and poetry. This memoir deals with her relationship with her husband, his being Salvadoran and what that means in the framework of a country that has been devastated by war and political upheaval. As in her previous books, this paean to her husband and his native land is rife with lyricism and unusual metaphors and similies. Written about several different trips to El Salvadore, Kephart works hard to graduate from pure outsider to holder of memories, especially in order to pass them along to her son. She includes some of the history, superstition, recent struggles faced by the country in order to understand all that shaped the man her husband Bill became. She flounders with Spanish, finding it quick and impenetrable but she can embrace the stories once translated. She is fascinated by the tales of Bill's grandfather and by the coffee plantation that dominated the family's life. She looks deep into the heart of her husband's origins, her son's heritage, and learns about the framework of her marriage and her own nuclear family.

The writing here is musing, ruminative, meandering from pillar to post, just as in the conversations she hears which are only half translated for her. There is a real sense of exploration and "otherness" in the book. And while Kephart does have her own unique way with words, I found the book difficult on which to stay focused. Chapter titles (Art, Luck, and Freedom are just a few examples) are not the usual sorts of topics for a memoir and perhaps this caused me difficulty. It was definitely thick, slow, dreamy going while I was reading it. But almost all of the reviewers at amazon found it exquisite so I'm clearly in the minority opinion thinking it was an okay read rather than a transcendent one.

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