The Distance Between Us: A Memoir

The Distance Between Us: A Memoir

4.5 12
by Reyna Grande
     
 

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Mago pointed to a spot on the dirt floor and reminded me that my umbilical cord was buried there. “That way,” Mami told the midwife, “no matter where life takes her, she won’t ever forget where she came from.”

Then Mago touched my belly button . . . She said that my umbilical cord was like a ribbon that connectedSee more details below

Overview

Mago pointed to a spot on the dirt floor and reminded me that my umbilical cord was buried there. “That way,” Mami told the midwife, “no matter where life takes her, she won’t ever forget where she came from.”

Then Mago touched my belly button . . . She said that my umbilical cord was like a ribbon that connected me to Mami. She said, “It doesn’t matter that there’s a distance btween us now. That cord is there forever.”

When Reyna Grande’s father leaves his wife and three children behind in a village in Mexico to make the dangerous trek across the border to the United States, he promises he will soon return from “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side) with enough money to build them a dream house where they can all live together. His promises become harder to believe as months turn into years. When he summons his wife to join him, Reyna and her siblings are deposited in the already overburdened household of their stern, unsmiling grandmother.

The three siblings are forced to look out for themselves; in childish games they find a way to forget the pain of abandonment and learn to solve very adult problems. When their mother at last returns, the reunion sets the stage for a dramatic new chapter in Reyna’s young life: her own journey to “El Otro Lado” to live with the man who has haunted her imagination for years, her long-absent father.

In this extraordinary memoir, award-winning writer Reyna Grande vividly brings to life her tumultuous early years, capturing all the confusion and contradictions of childhood, especially one spent torn between two parents and two countries. Elated when she feels the glow of her father’s love and approval, Reyna knows that at any moment he might turn angry or violent. Only in books and music and her rich imaginary life does she find solace, a momentary refuge from a world in which every place feels like “El Otro Lado.”

The Distance Between Us captures one girl’s passage from childhood to adolescence and beyond. A funny, heartbreaking, lyrical story, it reminds us that the joys and sorrows of childhood are always with us, invisible to the eye but imprinted on the heart, forever calling out to us of those places we first called home.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Award-winning novelist (Across a Hundred Mountains) Grande captivates and inspires in her memoir. Raised in Mexico in brutal poverty during the 1980s, four-year-old Grande and her two siblings lived with their cruel grandmother after both parents departed for the U.S. in search of work. Grande deftly evokes the searing sense of heartache and confusion created by their parents’ departure. Eight years later her father returned and reluctantly agreed to take his children to the States. Yet life on the other side of the border was not what Grande imagined: her father’s new girlfriend’s indifference to the three children becomes more than apparent. Though Grande’s father continually stressed the importance of his children obtaining an education, his drinking resulted in violence, abuse, and family chaos. Surrounded by family turmoil, Grande discovered a love of writing and found solace in library books, and she eventually graduated from high school and went on to become the first person in her family to graduate from college. Tracing the complex and tattered relationships binding the family together, especially the bond she shared with her older sister, the author intimately probes her family’s history for clues to its disintegration. Recounting her story without self-pity, she gracefully chronicles the painful results of a family shattered by repeated separations and traumas (Aug.)
Slate
“The sadness at the heart of Grande’s story is unrelenting; this is the opposite of a light summer read. But that’s OK, because . . . this book should have a long shelf life.”
The Daily Beast
“A timely and a vivid example of how poverty and immigration can destroy a family.”
Booklist
“The poignant yet triumphant tale Grande tells of her childhood and eventual illegal immigration puts a face on issues that stir vehement debate.”
LA Times
“A brutally honest book…akin to being the “Angela’s Ashes” of the modern Mexican immigrant experience.”
San Antonio Express News
“Powerful, harrowing.”
From the Publisher
"Reyna Grande's extraordinary journey towards the American dream will be an inspiration to anyone who has ever dreamed of a better life.”

—Ligiah Villalobos, Writer and Executive Producer of La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon)

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - Cheryl Strayed
“Reyna Grande is a fierce, smart, shimmering light of a writer with an important story to tell.”
Sandra Cisneros
“I’ve been waiting for this book for decades. The American story of the new millennium is the story of the Latino immigrant, yet how often has the story been told by the immigrant herself? What makes Grande’s beautiful memoir all the more extraordinary is that, through this hero’s journey, she speaks for millions of immigrants whose voices have gone unheard.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
“Eloquent, honest storytelling. This book would be fabulous required reading for college freshmen or, even better, for freshman members of Congress,”
BookPage
“An important piece of America’s immigrant history.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Accomplishes one of the great things books can do: make an abstract idea real.”
Alegria Magazine
“Personal, heart-wrenching, and ultimately triumphant. . . . An engaging writer with a talent for infusing her narrative with personal and affecting characterizations and stories, Grande truly offers an unprecedented look into the immigration experience. . . . The Distance Between Us has the power to change minds and hearts.”
NBC Latino
“Heart-warming. . . . Even with the challenges of learning English, earning good grades and fighting her way through turbulent adolescence, Grande emerged as a successful writer whose prose has the potential to touch the generation of youth whose story is so reminiscent of her own.”
The Hispanic Reader
“Told in simple, easy to read—yet descriptive—prose. . . . An inspirational book for young Latinos or anyone who has faced adversity. Just keep those tissues handy.”
La Bloga
“Shows off Grande’s exceptional writing skill. . . . The writer’s economy of detail enriches the reading. . . . Anyone who reads The Distance Between Us will find the distance between their insularity and the humanity of immigrants is the two inches occupied in the memoir’s 322 pages.”
The California Report
“Generous and humble. . . . Makes palpable a human dilemma and dares us to dismiss it.”
Texas Observer
“Many of us find it difficult to practice diplomacy with our relatives. But when typical family squabbles are complicated by national borders—as they are in Reyna Grande’s excellent new memoir—the stakes are raised far higher than ‘Who’s cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year?’”
author of The House of Mango Street Sandra Cisneros
“I’ve been waiting for this book for decades. The American story of the new millenium is the story of the Latino immigrant, yet how often has the story been told by the immigrant herself? What makes Grande’s beautiful memoir all the more extraordinary is that, through this hero’s journey, she speaks for millions of immigrants whose voices have gone unheard.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
“A deeply personal coming-of-age story that extols the power of self-reliance and the love of books.”
The Christian Science Monitor
One the 15 Best Books of 2012
Latina Style
"Has the power to change minds and hearts."
The Christian Science Monitor
One the 15 Best Books of 2012
Dallas Morning News
“Grande connects readers with intimacy to the enormous emotional dislocation children suffer when parents leave them behind. She grabs your heart and strums music on it. She gives a pulse to her profound statistic that 80 percent of Latin American children in U.S. schools have been separated from a parent in the migration process. It is one of very few stats in a book of simple prose and ironic metaphor.”
Library Journal
After writing two award-winning novels, Grande gets down to the nitty-gritty and chronicles her life as an undocumented immigrant, from her border crossing at age nine. The distance widens between her and her father until she must finally make her own life. Brave memoir.
Kirkus Reviews
In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family's cycle of separation and reunification. Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family's only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents' love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator's hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define--in the U.S., her name's literal translation, "big queen," led to ridicule from other children--and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence "my mamá loves me" (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to "rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?" A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781451661804
Publisher:
Washington Square Press
Publication date:
08/28/2012
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
66,427
File size:
16 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

Read an Excerpt


Prologue

Reyna, at age two

MY FATHER’S MOTHER, Abuela Evila, liked to scare us with stories of La Llorona, the weeping woman who roams the canal and steals children away. She would say that if we didn’t behave, La Llorona would take us far away where we would never see our parents again.

My other grandmother, Abuelita Chinta, would tell us not to be afraid of La Llorona; that if we prayed, God, La Virgen, and the saints would protect us from her.

Neither of my grandmothers told us that there is something more powerful than La Llorona—a power that takes away parents, not children.

It is called The United States.

In 1980, when I was four years old, I didn’t know yet where the United States was or why everyone in my hometown of Iguala, Guerrero, referred to it as El Otro Lado, the Other Side.

What I knew back then was that El Otro Lado had already taken my father away.

What I knew was that prayers didn’t work, because if they did, El Otro Lado wouldn’t be taking my mother away, too.

Prologue

IN 2010, TWENTY-FIVE years after my new life in the United States began, my father was diagnosed with liver cancer. By then, my siblings and I had little communication with him. By then, he’d managed to chase us away. But as is often the case with terminal illnesses, broken families put themselves back together, and I began to find my way back to my father, although the journey—like the one I took across the U.S.-Mexico border—was not at all easy.

On Tuesday, September 6, 2011, the day before my thirty-sixth birthday, Mago, Carlos, and I found ourselves around my father’s hospital bed listening to the doctor tell us he had done everything he could for him. The doctor said we should let our father go.

He didn’t know about all the times I had already lost him. Back in Mexico, there was always the hope that he would return. But now there was no hope to cling to. If we let him go, he would not be coming back.

I turned to look at my father. He lay on his hospital bed, only 130 pounds of flesh and bones. His face was sunken in. His skin sagged from all the weight he’d lost. Once, his skin was the color of rain-soaked earth. Now, it was a dull grayish color—like in that black-and-white photograph of him I so cherished. I could tell that he was not here. His eyes were slightly open, and they were glazed over, looking into space, looking at nothing. I wanted him to see me. I had always wanted to be seen by him.

I couldn’t follow all the cords and hoses that came in and out of him. I couldn’t understand all the numbers on the monitors next to him. But the wavy lines that represented his heartbeat told me of the conflict within him. His mind had already gone elsewhere. Yet, his heart struggled to hold on. It was fighting a losing battle. His blood pressure was now down to sixty.

The doctor waited for our decision.

I looked at Mago, then at Carlos. Betty lived in Watsonville, a six-hour drive from Los Angeles. But even if she lived here she would not have come. My mother knew what she was doing when she did not allow my father to take Betty. So now it was Mago, Carlos, and I who got to decide our father’s fate. Were they thinking what I was thinking? How shocking it was to see him like that. I wanted to remember him how he once was. Robust. Strong. Proud. Cancer had taken so much from him already. It had humbled him in a way I never imagined him being humbled.

“Okay,” we said. Mago, Carlos, and I looked at one another and nodded, reassuring ourselves of our mutual decision. “Okay,” we said again.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “It’ll be over quickly. He won’t suffer.”

We stood around our father. The machines were disconnected one by one from his body. During the interminable twenty minutes that it took for my father’s heart to stop beating, the years I spent with him flashed through my mind, from the moment I first laid eyes on him after our eight-year separation, to the first day I came to live with him, to the day I left his house for the last time, to now.

I reached to grab his hand, that hand that was the exact shape of my own, and I held on tight.

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What People are saying about this

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - Cheryl Strayed
“Reyna Grande is a fierce, smart, shimmering light of a writer with an important story to tell.”
From the Publisher
“In this poignant memoir about her childhood in Mexico, Reyna Grande skillfully depicts another side of the immigrant experience—the hardships and heartbreaks of the children who are left behind. Through her brutally honest firsthand account of growing up in Mexico without her parents, Grande sheds light on the often overlooked consequence of immigration—the disintegration of a family.”

—Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of Enrique's Journey

Sandra Cisneros
“I’ve been waiting for this book for decades. The American story of the new millennium is the story of the Latino immigrant, yet how often has the story been told by the immigrant herself? What makes Grande’s beautiful memoir all the more extraordinary is that, through this hero’s journey, she speaks for millions of immigrants whose voices have gone unheard.”

Read More

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