Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Through a glass

I think that someone recommended Laura Resau's Red Glass to me when it came out a couple of years ago, but it went on the maybe-I'll-get-around-to-this-but-it's-not-likely pile, so I was glad to see an audio version come my way recently. Its journey of self-discovery and understanding was worth the wait. The narrator, Sophie, is a bit of a delicate flower: She has constant, unrealistic fears about death and disease, and is a loner because she doesn't feel relaxed enough around people to make friends. She lives with her mother and her husband, a Mexican immigrant, in Tucson. Her British mother's distant relative-by-marriage, Aunt Dika, a flamboyant Bosnian refugee, lives with them.

One day, stepfather Juan is contacted by U.S. Immigration: a young boy -- the only survivor of a group of Mexicans attempting to enter the U.S. illegally -- has Juan's business card in his possession. Does Juan know him? Juan doesn't, but the family agrees to take the boy in until his family can be located. It takes a while for six-year-old Pablo to trust them enough to speak, but eventually he tells them that he comes from a small village in Oaxaca. Sophie's family wishes to adopt Pablo, but they also want to give him the chance to make the decision, so Sophie and Aunt Dika -- along with Aunt Dika's Guatemalan boyfriend and his son Ángel -- make the journey by Volkswagon bus to Pablo's village. Ángel and his father intend to travel on to Guatemala to visit their old village, returning for the drive back to Arizona.

This is a giant step for Sophie, who has a lengthy catalog of all the catastrophes that could occur on their drive into the unknown. But her love for Pablo helps her, and when she must make an unexpected trip to Guatemala to help out Ángel and his father, Sophie calls upon reserves she didn't know she had to accomplish this. It is a most satisfying journey.

The audiobook is narrated by Emma Bering. She needs to create a number of characters with unique accents in this story: Sophie's mother's English, Aunt Dika's Bosnian, a variety of Spanish speakers, as well as two who speak in indigenous Mixtec and Mayan. There's a significant amount of Spanish sprinkled through the story, and she sounded completely comfortable with the language. Each character was interesting to listen to and Bering was consistent in her portrayals.

She voiced Sophie -- at first full of fears and gradually full of confidence -- a bit overly youthful in the beginning; she sounded more like 10, rather than 16. But I grew to appreciate Bering's choice, as Sophie's newfound fuerte (strength) and chispa (spark) were evident in her voice as the story progressed.

If I have a concern about this performance, I'm not sure it's a fair one: All of the Spanish speaking characters are performed in Spanish-inflected English, even when they are speaking Spanish (Sophie tells us the languages of a conversation). Yet, when Sophie speaks Spanish, she continues to speak in her standard American accent (as does Ángel). This bothered me during the entire length of the book, but -- at the same time -- I think I understand the narrator's decision (no doubt guided by the audiobook's director). You can't, after all, have characters speak in multiple ways (beyond emotional shadings, I mean). It would be too confusing for the listener. So, I think I can let it go. Whoosh! There it went.

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