Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman

This is an excellent look at how terrorism can effect one family, but with an unexpected angle, at least from this USian's perspective: instead of looking at terrorism in the US or radical Islamic terrorism, this is some homegrown terrorism - in Argentina.

Life, AfterDani's life changed forever on her 7th birthday. That was the day terrorists loaded a truck with explosives and drove it into the AMIA building in Buenos Aires. Among the victims was Dani's pregnant aunt.

In the following years, political and economic upheaval has rocked Argentina, and Dani's family. Her father has lost his successful business, reducing the family to dinners of wrinkled potatoes - when there's food in the house at all - eaten by candlelight since the electricity has been turned off. As Dani watches her best friends move - one following her family's Jewish heritage to Israel, another to Miami - she is full of both hope and dread when her parents finally announce they, too, will be moving, to New York where her uncle lives.

Dani has to adapt to life in a new country, a new language, and even a new hemisphere where the seasons are the exact opposite of what they should be. To make things harder, her father isn't having an easy time adapting, and has sunk into a shell of his former self, depressed about the move, everything he's lost, and the charity they must now accept. Dani is scared and angry about the person her father has become, and is tired of having to step up to help take care of him, her little sister, and her mom, when all she wants to do is make friends and maybe even go on a date for once. Life After the terrorism and collapse in Argentina is no picnic, but is it even possible to return to the life they had Before?

I loved Dani, as she's genuinely a good kid, but her entire life is falling apart around her and it's all she can do to keep her head up. Her most complex feelings are reserved for her father, who is clearly suffering from deep clinical depression. As a reader, this was totally clear to me, and sometimes I had to stop myself from empathizing too much with Dani's rages against her father. Yes, he should be picking up her little sister from school or helping with the housekeeping, and it was easy to be angry at him for failing miserably at that, but knowing what depression can do to a person I know I shouldn't have those feelings!

What a sad, yet sweet, book. Littman has taken on several complicated issues, yet distilled them into a clean novel. I loved that Dani's family is not only Argentinian, but Jewish as well, a combination I don't think I've ever seen before. However, this isn't a book about being Argentinian Jews - it just adds a little depth to the family's background and gives them a reason to search out help from Jewish aid organizations. On the flip side, I know there are religious reasons for it, but it was a little jarring to see references to a deity written as "G-d" or "D-os." And there's a lot of praying in this book, so it happens rather often.

Like the kids in Dani's school, most of my knowledge of Argentina comes from Evita, so I loved the insight into the political and economic upheaval that has been rocking the country. The focus of the book is definitely on Dani and her family, so there perhaps aren't as many descriptions of life in Argentina as I would have liked, but Littman does a good job of giving peeks at how life has changed drastically while not distracting from the story she wants to tell.

2 comments:

Lauren said...

Darn you Angela, you keep adding to my list of books I need to read. Maybe I'll get to it this summer.

I know you said that seeing G-d printed was jarring for you. It's strange for me to see it another way.

Angela Craft said...

:-) Guess that means I'm doing my job right!

For me it was unexpected to see it in a narrative. I know in online chats I've had with Jewish friends they're written that way, so when I saw it in the book I could figure it out easily. Never seen it done in a published book.

Actually, that brings up another point in the books favor - absolutely nothing is translated. Spanish words and phrases are italicized but there's no immediate English definition or glossary. Same with G-d - if you're not familiar with Judaism, there's no way to figure out from the text why the characters are apparently censoring themselves.

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