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.
Nomadic Soul. BOI>TUS>DEN>SEA. Particularly love reading novels saturated in feminism, 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.