Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Reading Life
By Vivian Lake, Puerto Rico Sun Book Editor

The Turkish Lover by Esmeralda Santiago ($24.95 DaCapo Press, 341 pp.)


This much-awaited follow-up to When I was Puerto Rican and Almost a Woman is a riveting memoir of a young woman’s first serious relationship. Santiago, at age 21, meets an older man and leaves her family to be with him. Although the man is older, charming and experienced, she soon learns that he is also a dominating, lying, psychologically abusive man and has no visible means of support. And he calls her “Chiquita.”
After a financial setback, he takes her back to New York and dumps her at her parents’ home. After he leaves the country Esmeralda flourishes, finds a job she loves and her own place to live. Unfortunately, she continues to correspond with the Turkish Loser (as I call him) who calls and writes constantly with fervent but vague promises of reuniting with her. Instead of running for the hills (as every reader would advise), Esmeralda is enthralled, though not yet immobilized by her attraction for this man.
Esmeralda is working at a prestigious and fulfilling job at the Museum of Modern Art when she hears from the loser again, telling her that he is enrolled at the University of Texas. She is living in Lubbock, Texas, in a matter of weeks. His life becomes hers as she finds a job – and hands over her salary to him, researches and writes his papers for him, and learns to be quiet, submissive and not ask too many questions. When he completes his Master’s – for which she did all the work, something happens. Esmeralda’s self-esteem and self-worth begin to flourish. She has been taking a few courses, has done most of the work for her lover’s degrees, and begins to believe that she can accomplish more, and deserves better.
During a vacation in Massachusetts, the couple drive through Cambridge and the Harvard campus. Esmeralda has an epiphany. She belongs here. She returns to Lubbock unsure of how she will make the desire a reality. With the support of her co-workers, she completes the application and applies for scholarships and is accepted. To his credit, the loser is supportive. They pack up their Lubbock life and head north. He is to start a doctoral program in upstate New York and she moves to Cambridge to start life at Harvard.
This is an extraordinary testament to the strength of the human spirit – and the strength of Ms. Santiago in particular.
Esmeralda Santiago’s website is at www.esmeraldasantiago.net

Vivian Lake, a contributing writer to Puerto Rico Sun, runs her own blog site dedicated to book news. It is at www.bookauthority.blogspot.com.
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