Book: La Americana – A Memoir
Author: Melanie Bowden Simón
Review by: Leslie Gordon, director, Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University
In La Americana, Melanie Bowden Simón describes sneaking into Cuba from Cancun in 2001. That trip, undertaken as an attempt at healing after the death of her mother four months earlier, brings her both closure and a new beginning when she meets Luis, the man she will eventually marry. The book balances agony and beauty as Simón works through her grief at the loss of a beloved mother while starting a relationship with a country and a man unlike any she had known before.
A southern girl who’d grown up in Savannah and Atlanta, Bowden at 25 rubbed elbows with everyone from politicians to movie stars while planning dinner parties and organizing galas for the legendary Tina Brown at Talk Magazine in New York. But her mother’s diagnosis and eventual death from cancer threw her off balance and sent her on her search for self. Without planning it in advance, that search took her to Cuba.
Although Cuba is the place of her healing and of her new love, Simón views it unsentimentally. While intrigued by the vintage cars, the Casa de la Musica, the food served in the paladares, and Luis, she deplores the deprivation and apparent oppression of the people.
Simón’s memories of and love for her mother are woven throughout the book. Through terrific storytelling, we become part of that special relationship that Simón and her mother shared. And when she talks about her mother’s last days, we also feel the deep despair that grips her, a despair that gives way in the end to a new beginning with Luis.
This is a memoir tinged with grief and romance. But always, it’s about love. Melanie Bowden Simón took 10 years to be able to write this valentine to her mother and her husband but for the reader it was worth the wait.
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