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Not for Everyday Use: A Memoir by Elizabeth…
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Not for Everyday Use: A Memoir

by Elizabeth Nunez

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Caribbean American author Elizabeth Munez was living and teaching in New York when she got that dreaded telephone call that her mother in Trinidad had had a stroke and was seriously ill.

She arrived home to find that her mother had passed and her father was slipping away into dementia. This brought forth this beautiful episodic memoir of growing up in Trinidad.

Along with everyday events she deftly reveals the evils of colonialism (her father was the first non-white government minister), racism, classism, and a wonderful splash of Caribbean history as well as glimpses into her life in the United States.

Two bits especially will stay with me:

In one very memorable scene, she relates this striking story. There were almost no Caribbean authors as she was growing up, especially not Caribbean children's authors. Since the infrastructure was British with British officials, British church leaders, and British teachers, the books she read were mostly British and her favorites were by Enid Blyton. So her family went to the beach one day to have a picnic and Elizabeth was disappointed to the point of tears. She had learned from Ms. Blyton that it 'was not a real picnic' without taking a wooly jumper and eating apples or pears. None of these items were available on Trinidad and Elizabeth was heartbroken that her family's picnic was not real – not good enough.

I also was very intrigued to learn that the Trinidadians who enlisted to fight in WWII, did not go to avenge the white Europeans, but the slaughter of 1.5 million Ethiopians by Mussolini. I do not remember learning about this slaughter in school - and after a bit of internet searching, now I am dumbfounded by it.

I love memoirs by women and this is one of the best I have read this year. Highly recommended. ( )
  streamsong | Aug 17, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The reason it's taken me so long to write this Early Reviewers review is that I had to start this book on three separate occasions. It's a difficult book to get into -- hence my putting it aside and coming back later, again and again.

I should have loved this book: postcolonial, crazy family members, exotic setting, family secret discovery -- I love that all. But I didn't care for it. Having read the beginning few chapters three times, I think they are the problem. The book immediately launches the author back to the Caribbean for her mother's funeral. Not a terrible in media res, but since we don't know her or any of her siblings yet, there are no stakes in the book. We don't know why we should care. Because we don't know anyone, when we see them acting somewhat erratically, we don't know if it's normal or just due to grief. It's hard to get a read on the characters, and for that reason, it was hard for me to care about them.

This book has some interesting things to say about postcolonialism and the Catholic Church's less than progressive views on women and birth control, but they're buried in a family history I never cared about. The writing is good and there are gems in some chapters, but it doesn't reach the level of postcolonial literature or memoir that it could have with some better editing.
1 vote sparemethecensor | Jun 20, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
An okay, but not overly interesting, look at a daughter returning to the country of her birth for her mother's funeral. I felt like some of the same ground was covered over and over again throughout the book -- starting to sound repetitive. I put it down several times and had to remind myself to finish it -- not the sign of a great read, for me. ( )
  vasquirrel | Jun 11, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A sensitive memoir by a favorite Caribbean author about herself, her mother, and the impact of colonialism and racism.

The Caribbean is home for many excellent writers, and Elizabeth Nunez is one of the best. She was born in Trinidad and lived as an adult in the U.S. Her eight novels are about people whose lives follow the same general path. Her style is not flamboyant, but reserved, a quality she learned to value growing up. Just under the calm surface of her writing lies a wealth of understanding about the contradictions and conflicts we all know well.

In Not for Everyday Use, Nunez tells her own story, not in a neat chronological narrative, but as a journal covering the time between the phone call that her 90-year-old mother was dying to her mother’s funeral four days later, a time filled with memories and insights. Nunez has dealt with the story of her life and family before in two semi-autobiographical novels, Anna In Between and Boundaries, about a Caribbean woman with a position at an American publishing company who returns home to visit her aging parents. In her new book she retells that story with new depth and returns it to its factual base.
Nunez tells us a great deal about herself in this book: about her marriage, which never gave her the loving support that she had seen in her parents' lives, and about her encounters with American prejudice, which differed from that she knew in the Caribbean. She recounts how she loved English literature, finding in it universal themes that included her, and how she discovered her own African roots and literature. Sharing her enthusiasm for good writing with her students brings her continuing joy.
Read more http://wp.me/p24OK2-18j
  mdbrady | May 26, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Although I would have rated this book with 3 stars through the first 3/4 of it, I changed my rating to 4 stars in the last quarter because the author finally discovers some important insights regarding her family, mostly her parents and their relationship. Most of her life, the author feels an emotional detachment to her mother but finally sees the truth of the matter, even though she must be in her 60s by the time she realizes the truth. A very good book that I'd recommend. ( )
  bibliophileofalls | May 24, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
An award-winning novelist who teaches fiction writing takes us along on a return to Trinidad when her mother dies. But we mostly learn about the novelist and her pain.
 
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Tracing the four days from the moment she gets the call that every immigrant fears to the burial of her mother, Elizabeth Nunez tells the haunting story of her lifelong struggle to cope with the consequences of the "sterner stuff" of her parents' ambitions for their children and her mother's seemingly unbreakable conviction that displays of affection are not for everyday use. But Nunez sympathizes with her parents, whose happiness is constrained by the oppressive strictures of colonialism, by the Catholic Church's prohibition of artificial birth control which her mother obeys, terrified by the threat of eternal damnation (her mother gets pregnant fourteen times: nine live births and five miscarriages which almost kill her), and by what Malcolm Gladwell refers to as the "privilege of skin color" in his mother's Caribbean island homeland where "the brown-skinned classes...came to fetishize their lightness." Still, a fierce love holds this family together, and the passionate, though complex, love Nunez's parents have for each other will remind readers of the passion between the aging lovers in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. Written in exquisite prose by a writer the New York Times Book Review calls "a master at pacing and plotting," Not for Everyday Use is a page-turner that readers will find impossible to put down.… (more)

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