Before the Rain by Luisita López Torregrosa
Author: Luisita López Torregrosa
Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir / 1980s / Philippines / Journalist / Homosexuality / Romantic Affair )
Publisher/Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (8/7/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Okay to liked, depending on my mood.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A newspaper editor's intense affair with a journalist during the violent elections between Marcos/Aquino in 1980s Philippines.
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's so very striking and pretty, and doesn't sensationalize the romance between Torregrosa and her lover Elizabeth (although with those big ole O'Keefe-ian blossoms, there's certainly a sapphic suggestion).
I'm reminded of...: Jeanette Winterson
First line: In the years since that first letter came, postmarked New Delhi and written on pale lavender Claridges Hotel stationery, I have begun this story a hundred times, and each time I was afraid.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you're a memoir addict.
Why did I get this book?: In high school, I wanted desperately to be an international journalist and so Torregrosa's memoir sounded perfect for vicarious arm-chair wish fulfillment.
Review: This is a memoir that reads like a novel, and that's both a good and bad thing. Torregrosa has a sinuous, vague, slippery style of writing that I love in a good novel (I was reminded a bit of early '90s Jeannette Winterson) but feels a bit incomplete in a memoir. This story of 'love and revolution' had plenty of revolution -- on an international and interpersonal scale -- but I felt a real lack of love in Torregrosa's narrative.
Which leads me back to my original complaint. Were this a novel -- with some exploration into the motivations of our two heroines -- I would be all over this. But as a memoir, I wanted more from Torregrosa: I wanted her to go deeper in her recounting and analysis of her relationship and that juxtaposition with the tumultuous world of 1980s Philippines and international journalists.
There's an enormous distance between Torregrosa and the reader due to her writing style. A little dreamy, very much removed, Torregrosa sums up weeks at a time with a small paragraph. She recounts other people's words but never offers her own direct statements. The moment when (I think) she and her married lover consummated their relationship felt obfuscated, as if Torregrosa didn't want to write about it but felt like she had to.
In many ways, this felt like an homage to a relationship rather than a memoir of a life, as Torregrosa's obvious affection and gratitude toward her lover, Elizabeth, spills out from every page. She writes very poetically about Elizabeth but I never got to 'know' the woman -- which would be fine if I got to know Torregrosa. Instead, I felt at arm's length from both women, watching their squabbles uncomfortably, and drinking in the gorgeous landscapes around them. (Torregrosa can evoke place like a song; its wonderful.)
This book reminded me of those 'gay classics' one gobbles up when first coming out, desperate for someone to relate to and, let's be honest, some sex. And like those classics -- like Rubyfruit Jungle and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit -- they're lovely, moody books that aren't nearly as gay as one wants them to be.
All this and I still liked the book in many ways; I just wanted more. Shelf Awareness loved this one and found it passionate, so it may be that I focused on the wrong themes with this reading. In another moment, I might see it as deeply passionate. Still, I enjoyed very real look at international journalism Torregrosa offered; this is armchair escape of the first order.
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