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Plantains and the Seven Plagues

By

Worth reading 😎

A bite-sized memoir for those who have homesick hearts, have lost a parent, or are seeking a culturally-rooted, multigenerational read.

Synopsis

My book is a collection of my memories from childhood, as I struggled with my bi-cultural home. I detail our life in West New York, New Jersey, moving around town from apartment to apartment and the deep relationships within my family, with my mother as the center of my world. The book ties my past to my present including my mother’s recent passing. It is a spirited story with moments of comedy and the raw grief I continue to live through every day.

Well, this was certainly a bite-sized memoir! Plantains and the Seven Plagues feels suited for readers who have homesick hearts, have a similar background to the author, have lost a parent, or are seeking a culturally-rooted, multi-generational narrative. It also seems this petite memoir might align with a pre-millennial audience more so (Gen X+). The author uses meandering memories of her family to explore what it means to her to be a multi-cultural Latinx American piecing together her own identity. This highly family-focused story of her upbringing briefly explores her parents' courtship, superstitions, living transitions, the idea of “home,” and her profound loss. Colorism, cultural biases, and family separation due to political regimes are described in a matter of fact way, as if to say, “this is how it is."


For me, the blunt, no apologies narration gives the memoir a note of simplicity and genuine emotional reflection.  The simplicity is to be expected though, as Plantains and the Seven Plagues is just shy of 170 pages — a speedy read. I do think it would be just as, if not more engaging if it were turned into a collection of short stories with more detail. Length aside, this indie read does put to use the reader’s imagination and five senses as she describes her expanse of home cooked native cuisine, food bazaars, eccentric family members, sacred Azabache stones that save lives, and swaying loyalty to her dual nationalities. 


Throughout its telling, this story focuses on her family rather than a solid focus on herself, but if you consider the cultural context (collectivism vs individualism), this memoir is authentically speaking from the cultures it aims to show reverence to. As a cultural insight seeker, this memoir certainly granted me a good inside view. That is, this memoir has clear Cuban/Dominican soul. Writing-wise, I saw a less-refined rawness and could tell these memories were very poignant for the author and part of her grief process. The transitions do feel abrupt and there are many slurs that increase the flippant ethos of it all. Like a novel adapted from a diary, there is creative grammar usage and disjointed edging between paragraphs; flitting from one topic or character to the next. Many translated Spanish phrases are used, which is a strong on-brand inclusion, I think.


Overall, in describing her mother and her parents’ homelands, she recounts them with a deep reverence. While her tidbits of sass translate pretty well, there’s still a maternal tone throughout.  For me, there were stronger and weaker parts of this memoir, mostly due to the disjointed and hard to follow timelines. In the end, I feel my biggest critique was the judgmental tone that showed up frequently (for kink culture, suicide victims, and more). Personally, I tend to prefer an objective or reflective/open narrating perspective in memoirs. This memoir did however remind me of the immense hurdles imposed on immigrants in America and of the power our families have in shaping our inner world.

Reviewed by

Nomadic Soul. BOI>TUS>DEN>SEA. Particularly love reading novels saturated in feminism, fantasy, culture, world travel, history, and empowerment. Many forms of storytelling have a special place in my heart, but I usually fall hardest for authentic memoirs, anthologies, and mythology in particular.

Synopsis

My book is a collection of my memories from childhood, as I struggled with my bi-cultural home. I detail our life in West New York, New Jersey, moving around town from apartment to apartment and the deep relationships within my family, with my mother as the center of my world. The book ties my past to my present including my mother’s recent passing. It is a spirited story with moments of comedy and the raw grief I continue to live through every day.

INTRODUCTION


I have been looking for something for a long time. Being that I am not quite sure what it is, I can't even begin to describe what I am looking for. My Dominican mother would have told me to focus on my responsibilities—and forget the ridiculous notion that something is missing. It is a woman's job to take care of her husband, kids, and home. In that order.

"But I want to be different from you!" I would yell when I was a teenager.

"Gracias, doña" she would say with her barrage of guilt darting from her shark-like eyes. Her gratitude was sarcasm armed with all the pain of her youth and my difficult birth. And of course, every chore I had never completed to her satisfaction.

"You don't understand, Mami! You are so old- fashioned!" I said this as if I was settling all disagreements between mothers and daughters from the beginning of time.

I am no longer a feisty teenager, struggling with depression or fighting the inevitable fact that one day I would turn into my mother. I am proud of that tiny, totalitarian Dominican lady, whose shoes were too big for me to fill—not in the literal sense, since she only wore a size five shoe—but in a figurative sense, which most would consider to be a tale of fiction.

Today, I am forty-eight, married to the love of my life, have two amazing teenage boys, and a great home— though it is far from the place where I grew up. I live in the country, surrounded by pastures, cattle, and air that is unpolluted by the taxi cabs, factories, and other urban features that go with city life. My husband is kind, loving, supportive, and has been my tower of strength through many difficult times. He has taken care of me when I have been sick and was by my side when I lost both of my parents. I am blessed.

So, the question remains, what am I looking for? I spent what felt like hours roaming the aisles of a bookstore twice this week, looking for the perfect book. A story that I am not only in the mood for, but one that I could relate to at a profound level. What I discovered was that the book, the story I was looking for, has yet to be written. What I am looking for could be right here, within me. I am filling the pages with memories of my Dominican mother, father—who is an exiled Cuban— sisters, brother, uncles, and the rest of my family. They are the pieces of a collective history that have melded together into who I am.

About the author

Paz Ellis has been writing since childhood. She began her journey as a writer with poetry and short stories. Paz was born and raised in New Jersey, and now lives in Florida with her husband and two teenage sons. Paz is a photographer, a history buff, and an avid reader. view profile

Published on April 24, 2020

Published by

40000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

Reviewed by

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