Tell Me Something True–Leila Cobo


How well do we know our mothers outside of their role as our nurturers?  Leila Cobo offers an interesting take on this question when twenty-four-year-old Gabriella, whose mother has been dead since she was three, finds the diary her mother began writing for her and then for herself  while visiting her grandmother in Columbia.  Gabriella, whose maternal grandparents were patricians in a small town in Columbia, was raised in L.A. by her movie-making, beautiful Hollywood father following her mother’s death in a plane crash, but spends a month each year with her mother’s people.  This trip is different, however, as, about to graduate from college, Gabriella feels compelled to push the limits  and finds herself less and less satisfied with the mother about whom she has been told.  She becomes involved with the son of a mafioso and continues to see him against the wishes of her grandmother.  Her headlong passion makes her more understanding when she finds her mother’s diary and begins reading about her adulterous relationship with another  Columbian bad-boy.  The diary ends without making clear what decision her mother had made:  to stay in Columbia with her lover or come home to LA and her husband and daughter.  Gabriella finds the lover in her quest for the truth and is confronted with the demon of time as she tries to reconcile the passionate exchanges recorded in the diary with the middle-aged, paunchy and balding man before her.  In the end, Gabriella makes her own choice to leave the violent world of her mafioso lover and comes to peace with the fact that she will never know for sure what choice her mother was going to make, and the understanding that even her mother may not have known at the moment of her death.

Mother-daughter relationships are complex and, in women’s lit, often explored.  Rebelling against a dead mother is no easier than against a living one, but the plot device here makes for an interesting read.  The exotic setting in Columbia complete with mafiosos and their bodyguards does not hurt, either.

Finished 3/6/13


What We Keep–Elizabeth Berg


Berg builds up a horrific incident that happened in the childhood of her protagonist, Ginny, in the summer she was 12.  The narrative flashes between a modern day flight to California and Ginny’s childhood.  Ginny reveals herself to be a highly involved, maybe overly involved, mother of two daughters and she reflects on her relationship with her mother and her older sister the summer that Jasmine, a single and exotic woman, moved in next to them.

Ginny is so angry with her mother and so bitter 35 years later that I assumed the incident was terrible.  The incident was mundane.  Ginny’s mother left her father.  She came back after a few weeks and wanted to establish shared parenting with their father, but the girls refused.  Ginny and her sister are only now visiting her for the first time in 35 years because Ginny’s older sister may be dying of cancer. 

Berg evokes the world of a 12-year-old girl with great realism but, perhaps because our world is full of tragedies so much more tragic than this one, when she finally reveals the “horrible crime” of Ginny’s mother, I was left saying to myself, “really?  That’s what all this drama was about?” 

It was the 50s and even today moms aren’t usually the ones to leave the house and the children, but still. 

The best part of the novel was Berg’s reflection on mothers and daughters and the expectations daughters have of their mothers that make the whole relationship so fraught and complicated.  Maybe that’s the story’s genius–that it reveals that what was an unforgiveable crime to a daughter is so thoroughly understandable and forgiveable to anyone else.