Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking Co. by Maria Amparo Escandon

Libertad, an American citizen, is incarcerated in a Mexican women’s prison for a crime that she is unable to articulate to the other inmates. What she can and does do, is to start a Library Club within the prison where she ostensibly reads to the inmates. But she’s not reading the battered books she holds in her hands. She is telling the life story of a girl, who has lived her whole life on the road with her former professor turned Mexican fugitive trucker father, complete with embellishments, obfuscations, and straight narrative. The stories of Libertad and Gonzalez’s daughter intertwine, wrapping around each other as past and present mix. The fabricated (or is it?) story of Mudflap Girl (the handle Gonzalez’s daughter adopts) moves by fits and starts to meet up with the story of Libertad in prison telling the story. The story moves in installments, leaving the listeners in the prison and the reader outside the book wondering what happens next, a cliff-hanger technique Libertad claims to have learned from watching soap operas. Meanwhile, Libertad’s daily life in prison is also explored. Life in a Mexican women’s prison comes across as quite different from any other country. There are different classes of prisoners and different levels of privilege, the lines of which Libertad easily crosses as a storyteller.

The cover copy on this novel mentions magical realism but I didn’t find that at all here. What I did find was a delightful meta-story with a subtly done theme of women’s friendship woven through it that completely engaged me as a reader.  The story of Mudflap Girl is a coming of age tale while the narrative thread with Libertad in the women's prison is about storytelling and the freedom to own ourselves within a greater social framework.  The young girl who grows up in the cab of her father's truck, the mascot of many but without real friends of her own becomes, through her time leading the Library Club at the prison, an adult with meaningful friendships and connected, caring familial relationships.  And in both stories, what Libertad relates is a tale of community, first of the trucking community and then of the diverse mishmash of women incarcerated in this Mexican prison.  Both stories weave together throughout the novel, intricately twined together, explaining and embellishing each others' plot line.  While the idea of female empowerment shines through Libertad's storytelling, both in Mudflap Girl's story and in the stories of the different women in the prison, men don't come off very well, causing an unsettling imbalance.  But the created community of the prison, a family both by circumstance and choice, is an appealing refuge to an otherwise rootless woman and makes for an enchanting read.  Definitely unusual, this was a quick read that keeps the reader turning the pages to find out the fate of Mudflap Girl, Libertad's crime, and the way that each and every character's story unfolds.  Ultimately a redemptive story, it will leave the reader with a warm feeling and an appreciation for the Sheherazades among us who lighten our sorrows with their skilled storytelling.

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