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Posted August 11, 2013
Alicia Barron felt like an outsider while growing up in a Latino working-class area of Chicago, even though she believed herself to be Latino. By protesting the Vietnam War while in college, she put herself in opposition to many she grew up with, some of whom served in the military. Her mother, Carla, kicked her out after one protest turned violent, and Alicia taught several years in another part of Chicago, having little contact with either Carla or their old friends. But a desire to feel “rooted,” and sorrow over the death of her closest childhood friend, lead Alicia to immerse herself in the Latino community again. While teaching in a largely Latino elementary school, she meets fellow teacher Ricardo Moreno and tries to fit into his expectations for their life together. Latin music and dancing pervade their encounters and provide a sound track to discussions of racial differences throughout the novel.
But Alicia finds roadblocks to discovering her roots. Carla won’t talk about her family or her past, and Alicia knows her father—who was killed in the Korean War when she was a baby—only from seeing his picture on the television set. When Alicia learns her mother is Italian, therefore “white,” and tells Ricardo, he rejects Carla because of a tragic incident from his youth involving whites and his Latino friends. Carla doesn’t reject Ricardo in return, however, telling Alicia, “He’s a good man for you.” After Carla dies of cancer, Alicia learns that her mother was the daughter of a Chicago industrialist who took advantage of his ethnic employees. On learning who Alicia’s grandfather was, Ricardo demands she renounce her gringo heritage, but she refuses and they break up.
The ending is somewhat indeterminate. Alicia inherits property from her mother’s family and puts the mansion to good use for the Latino community, but it’s unclear whether Alicia and Ricardo can or should resume their affair. This ending seems valid, however, for a novel in which racial distinctions and attitudes play such a huge role. Any history fraught with unfairness and lack of understanding between groups doesn’t get resolved quickly, and a wide gap between two very different individuals isn’t easily bridged. But the book doesn’t leave readers entirely without hope that love will prevail.
The Inheritors is beautifully written, with numerous memorable characters, including the principals: Alicia, who is a flawed but likable, very believable heroine; Ricardo, who rightly demands tolerance toward his own ethnic group but who isn’t always tolerant of others; and Carla, who rebelled against a circumscribed upbringing to find love with a Chilean man but who then seems “stuck” in the consequences of that youthful decision. Olivia, Carla’s close friend and Alicia’s godmother, is strong but understanding, more ready to forgive than either Carla or Alicia. Father Ramon, Carla’s confessor and friend, is both admirable and human in his platonic love for her. Esteban, Olivia’s son and a shell-shocked casualty of the Vietnam War, is rescued from his psychological prison by the revival of his passion for music, encouraged by Ricardo.
Dancing—especially passionate, unrestrained Latin dancing—seems to symbolize at various times in the novel: freedom, letting go of restraints, and being an outsider. Racial intolerance is a familiar theme in literature, but the novel freshens its treatment by showing it as more complex than simply one group’s resenting or looking down on another. The Inheritors is a story about searching for oneself and for a place to belong, a universal theme of literature.
Posted June 16, 2013
I am not familiar with either the feel of the 1960’s or Chicago: most of my information is gleaned from books and film of the times. Fortunately, neither is needed to understand the characters in this book, in fact, this story could be set anywhere in any country, nearly at any point in modern history. Tackling the sensitive issues of discrimination and racism, Kirscht has taken the standard box from which those stories are most often gleaned and turned it on its end. While everyone is familiar with racism and discrimination in a big picture sort of way: majority group uses their power to constrain a minority. Unless you are a member of a minority group, you are probably unaware of, or less aware of the subtle and not so subtle tensions that occur within those minority groups,
As this story progresses you will become highly aware of those subtle distinctions and slights that are used within communities that are nothing short of senseless discrimination. The contrast in attitude and acceptance in her childhood neighborhood in the intervening 20 years is glaring: the acceptance of others seems to have been replaced with insularity and mistrust with a distinctive conflict arising for those of mixed heritage. Pushing her to ignore or deny her white heritage is Ricardo, a fellow teacher and her love interest. Interestingly, his extreme reactions to her mixed racial heritage arrived when she decided to explore her mother’s family, and discovered that she too was a woman with a blended history. As Alicia delves deeper into her own family history, she finds answers and acceptance in the fact that these women overcame difficulties, crossed borders and loved despite differences, not similarities.
Throughout the story we are treated to several different views on national and cultural pride, all giving rise to the ultimate lessons about what it means to be American, with or without a distinct mixed heritage. Plausibly laying the groundwork for misunderstandings that created these tensions, Kirscht has managed to provide a story that while it deals with Latinos in the specific, could be applied to any subset of any town, and provides plenty of food for thought about your own perspective on your own cultural ties and associations.
I received an eBook from the author for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Posted March 21, 2013
As a former resident of Chicago and someone who’s written two novels set in that city, I was really excited to start reading The Inheritors by Judith Krantz. One of the neighborhoods I lived in was Wicker Park, which has, or at least had at that time, a large Hispanic population.
The Inheritors is set in a different neighborhood than I lived in and a different era (the 80’s) but still made me nostalgic for the Windy City. The book takes sort of an upside-down look at racism that I haven’t ever seen before. Many books have been written about the injustices imposed upon minorities by the “ruling” class. This book shows that minorities can be just as disdainful of the majority. A sort of reverse prejudice.
Alicia’s journey is to accept her white Anglo bloodline, something she has always rejected in the past. Her love interest, Ricardo, not only discourages her from making this effort, but is very adamant about how abhorrent he thinks her white lineage is.
I found myself disliking Ricardo from the outset and was encouraged by Alicia’s individuality and willingness to go her own way even though a part of her, like him, wants to pretend there is only Latino blood running through her veins. In an early scene at the school where she works, Alicia reflects on how the educational focus was only on the children’s Mexican heritage, despite the fact that most of them had never been to Mexico and many of the parents did not even come from that country. She feels a longing for her own childhood when the school and the neighborhood accepted themselves as more of a melting pot, an eclectic and lively mix of many races and hard working laborers.
It seems to me that the Chicago Alicia grew up in was a microcosm of the America I think we should be, and that we once were. Her slowly developing embrace of the diversity of her forebears is like a call for us to learn more about those who have different backgrounds and cultures than ours and incorporate them into our own lives. That is how we can build the richest, most fulfilling experience and future for ourselves and our children.
Posted January 19, 2013
Reviewed by Maria Beltran for Readers Favorite
The year is 1980 and Alicia Barron is back in her hometown in Chicago. She is attending the funeral service of her childhood friend whose whole family perished in an automobile accident. This is a close community but Alicia feels like an outsider even to her own mother who also attends the service. This brings back memories of Alicia’s childhood, her college years and her participation in the protest against the Vietnam War. Alicia is an only child whose father supposedly died in Korea before she was born. She is raised alone by her mother in the Mexican neighborhood as a Latino. Her background is a mystery even to herself. She has grown up without relatives and with a scant family history. She starts teaching in her old elementary school where she falls in love with Ricardo Moreno, a fellow teacher. Although still bothered by her past, she settles down to a normal life. The death of her mother will turn everything upside down when she inherits an estate and a family home and discovers her real heritage.
"The Inheritors" by Judith Kirscht is a powerful novel that centers on the conflict between races and nationalities. This novel gives us a glimpse of a Latino community in Chicago, an industrial city with diverse nationalities. We learn about their dreams and biases and how they cope with living in a country they cannot really call their own. The story is set in the turbulent times of the 1960's until the 1980's. The author successfully employs the use of flashbacks to tell her narrative. Obviously well researched, the novel explores the tension between the Italians, Mexicans, the Irish and other nationalities who have to live together in one community. It also explores the character of a woman who is subjected to racial, class and family conflicts during this time. Above all, "The Inheritors" is the story of love, the great love of a mother who is willing to sacrifice even her past to protect her unborn daughter. It is the story of Alicia and Ricardo's love that is put under strain by forces that are beyond their control. And this is what makes this novel appealing to readers. Will love triumph in the end? This is the question that I asked myself as I read the final chapters of this compelling narrative.
Posted September 3, 2012
No text was provided for this review.