Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Learning to Lose, by David Trueba

Learning to LoseSylivia just turned 16, and is trying to jump start her life.  She is hit by a car driven by Ariel, an Argentinian soccer player.  The accident leads to a young romance, one that causes both Sylvia and Ariel to lead double lives.  Sylvia's father and grandfather are also leading double lives, father being a criminal, and grandfather being wrapped in the world of prostitution.  Who will they all end up being when it is all said and done?

I am at a loss.  This book sounded so fantastic, and got critical acclaim, but I personally did not enjoy it.  In fact, reading it was a chore, one I almost did not complete.  I think the storyline had the potential to be very engaging, but balancing the stories of 4 different characters was tiresome, even if, in the end, they all came together.  I was most bothered by the storyline of the grandfather, which was basically chapter after chapter of this old man having sex with a prostitute.  I just did not see the purpose, and felt the book would have been much better (and shorter) had his story not been included.

The story is set in Madrid, Spain, and all of the main characters belong to different Latino cultural groups, primarily Spanish, Argentinian, and Ecuadorian.  There are prejudices and cultural clashes between these groups that, as an American, I found hard to understand, or in some cases really pick up on.  Also, I believe the book was written originally in Spanish, and translated to English.  It drove me crazy that none of the dialogue used quotation marks, which made it impossible to keep the dialogue straight, or even know what was dialogue and what was not.  I am not sure if this is a trait of Spanish writing, but I found it maddening, and confusing.

I did eventually, about 1/3 of the way into the book, begin to enjoy the Sylvia-Ariel storyline.   It was sweet, and I found it to be an honest portrayal of young love.   But at 500 + pages, a lot of fat could have been trimmed.  The book had a Hemingway-like feel too it, and as I hate Hemingway, this should not be taken as a compliment.  I also detected a slight misogynistic undertone to the book, because the females are only good for sex, and those not good for sex are portrayed almost as if having impotence (methaphorical, not literal impotence).

That all being said, I think this book could have a lot of appeal for readers with more European sensibilities, for those who love Spanish and Latin culture, and lovers of Hemingway.  As for me, I am going to chalk it up to something being lost in translation.

A touring review copy of this book was provided courtesy of Crazy Book Tours.
Crazy Book Tours