Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Do Not Go Gently

If you have ever wondered what it will feel like when your mind and body start to betray you as you near the end of your life, this book will terrify you. How the author Oscar Casares, who looks from the book jacket picture to be no more than 40 (aside: he has done a masterful job of keeping his personal data off the internet), can write so convincingly of his main character who is 91 is a mystery. I can hope that he is wrong – but I doubt it. It feels quite true.

Amigoland is the name of the nursing home in Brownsville, Texas to which Don Fidencio, 91, has been sent by his daughter. He has enough mental agility and physical mobility to be out of place with the other residents. Casares’ descriptions of the home and its residents are heart-breaking – and terrifying.

The other actors in the novel are Don Celestino, his younger brother at age 70, and Don Celestino’s girlfriend Socorro, age 38. Don Fidencio has repeatedly expressed his wish to visit the birthplace of his grandfather across the border in Mexico. After much disagreement the three of them set out on this journey/pilgrimage. The incidents of a lost passport, lost medicine, incontinence, missed busses might be humorous unless you have ever had to deal with similar incidents with an aging parent or relative.

For most of the book I was focused on the geographical journey that the three were making: the descriptions of an unfamiliar part of the country and the travel mechanics. Only at the end did I realize that each of them was on a much more significant inner journey of his and her own making.

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