Thursday, August 28, 2014
The House of Six Doors (a novel about Curaçao)
And then I found Patricia Selbert's House of Six Doors. The book has flaws--it is, after all, a debut novel--but richness of setting isn't one of them. Neither is emotional charge, which comes across clear and sharp, without drama, without falling into maudlin o-woe-is-me. I teared up twice, the second time uncontrollably (yeah, near the end). But I laughed, too.
And I learned so much about this place I've called home for over a decade.
Patricia's knack for narrative touches a nerve at the same time ubiquitous in today's world and, strangely, seldom mentioned: the multicultural personality. In our current, globalized, reality, multiculturalism is the new normal--mixed-race families, migration, children growing up in cultures diametrically different than their parents', the cultural exchange that border-breaching technology makes possible. And yet we continue to focus on "race"--skin color, place of birth--to define each other, and ourselves. And we continue to ignore the impact of culture--especially multiculture.
Serena, the book's protagonist and narrator, is light-skinned, which, in skin-color-über-sensitive Curaçao, awards her a special place in society. She's the one child that gets taken to visit her father's family on Sundays--but this family, Netherlands-born Dutch, reject her with cruel pettiness. Her mother, see, comes from a mixed-race family: Arawak native, black slave, Portuguese. Serena's life revolves around Oma, her maternal grandmother: a tall, sculptural black woman with eyes that shine like a meteor shower in the night sky. When Serena's mother takes her and her sister to the US, in search of the American Dream, it's Oma that Serena misses above all. She finds little to like in this new country, so hostile to the three women--but it is here, amidst tragedy, poverty, and heartbreak, that she discovers not only herself, but the depth and breadth of her cultural--multicultural--roots.
This is a story that will resonate with every immigrant, whether from Curaçao or Timbuktu. It has everything: a mother-daughter relationship that crackles with tension and betrayal, a yearning for what was--the childhood we've all lost, a discovery of what it means to grow up and let go, and--perhaps above all--the realization that nothing, and no one, we love is ever truly lost. It's a beautiful, beautiful book.