It’s fairly easy to glean a pattern from my book reviews; I tend to prefer books by foreign authors. It’s not that America is lacking in literary talent—Joan Didion counts for at least three foreign greats—but I find that reading books written by people who hail from elsewhere gives better insight into a country’s collective attitude than any “How to _____ Like a French/[insert country that is not the United States here] Girl” [also, can we please put a moratorium on those?] article can. So, when I heard that Lorea Canales, the Mexican lawyer, author, and journalist, had just published her coming of age novel Becoming Marta [original title: Abenas Marta] in English, I immediately asked her to send me a copy.
Becoming Marta is the story of an entitled Mexican heiress [the titular character] who has just lost her mother and is left to fend for herself, and fight to keep her fortune out of the hands of her father’s new gold-digging girlfriend, Gabby. Marta’s character has all the rich-kid qualities of your typical American coming-of-age novel protagonist: she’s a beautiful and semi-anorexic, with a penchant for drugs and empty sexual escapade. In fact, in re-watching season 1 of The OC, I’ve come to the conclusion that she is essentially Mexico’s Marissa Cooper.
The story takes the readers from the sprawling estates of Mexico’s wealthiest all the way to New York, where Marta strikes up an unlikely friendship with the daughter of her father’s new girlfriend, Adriana, who stages a brilliant art exhibition against the backdrop of New York’s bucolic Central Park, gaining the attention of prominent art dealers and the Upper East Side’s elite, a crowd Marta once considered herself a part o, and begins to feel increasingly isolated from as the story develops.
At first, it is difficult to root for Marta. She appears entitled, wishing ill upon others without basis and jumping to conclusions where she would be better served to avoid doing so. However, Canales is gifted at developing her characters, and by the end of the story, the reader has a genuine understanding of why Marta behaves in the way that she does.
It’s a quick, absorbing read, set against a highly luxurious and undeniably appealing backdrop. Canales’ prose is concise and cutting, which lends an extra dimension of intensity to her characters, Marta especially. The book is a refreshing, quick read, and you’ll want to get to the end simply to see how [or if] Marta can turn herself around.
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