Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Feature Review: "Evenings at the Argentine Club," By Julia Amante

By Tracy Montoya, RBTB Contributing Editor

Did you know that National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15? I’ve often wondered what was up with that. I mean, all the other heritage months get a full month—none of this dividing up two months business. So one day, I finally Googled “What is up with Hispanic Heritage Month?” and discovered that its start date is Independence Day for five Latin American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras.

In celebration of our crazy month, I pulled Julia Amante’s "Evenings at the Argentine Club" out of my monolithic book collection. It’s a rich, emotional story about self-discovery, family ties, and the meaning of home, especially when that word simultaneously applies to two different worlds.

Many Latinas in the US live under their immigrant parents’ roofs and watchful eyes until they get married, and Victoria Torres is no exception. She works at her father’s restaurant, regularly goes to the local Argentine club—the heart of the Argentine community in southern California—with her mother, and is the quintessential good girl.

When her father confides that he’s going to expand his restaurant into a chain—with the expectation that she’ll continue to work for him—it’s a big wake-up call. The American side of Victoria doesn’t want to toil in the restaurants forever, but the Argentine side recoils at the thought of disappointing her parents.

Then her childhood friend Eric Orteli walks into the Argentine club one night. Successful, confident, and ridiculously good-looking, the real estate investor’s life took the opposite path of Victoria’s. Instead of sticking close to his family and following the career goals they’d prescribed for him, he’d left home as soon as he became an adult. That created some tension between him and his father, so he’s hasn’t been home in a long time.

But now he’s back, and he and Victoria fall easily into their old friendship—and something more. He inspires her to break free from her parents’ rigid expectations and embrace her own “American dream” to be an interior designer. And she helps him start to see the beauty in the community he couldn’t wait to leave behind years ago.

As their attraction grows, so does Victoria’s trepidation. Can she trust her heart to someone with so little rooting him to one place, who doesn’t seem to value family and community as much as she does? And should she really jump from one man’s home to another’s, just when she’s starting to grow wings?

"Evenings at the Argentine Club" is a compelling exploration of one woman’s search for her identity and of what it means to fall in love just as you’re discovering who you are. While the themes are universal, details about Argentine customs and culture add unique depth. Evenings at the Argentine Club is a gorgeous romance—both between Eric and Victoria and between the Ortelis, the Torres family, and la patria.

If you want to get in on the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, the perfect way to start is to --

Buy the book.


Have you ever felt stuck in a rut, and what did you do to get out? And did the title of this book make anyone else bust into the "Evita" song catalog, or was it just me?

Image: DiversityGraphics.com

39 comments:

Caridad Pineiro said...

This sounds like an amazing book! The themes are universal, especially in a nation that is composed of so many different immigrants. Who doesn't identify with the clash of cultures or for that matter, what woman doesn't feel the pull of responsibility to family against what she owes herself to be happy. I can't wait to read this book.

Tracy Montoya said...

Thanks for stopping by, Cari! It is indeed a terrific book, and the themes are most definitely universal. Hope you enjoy it!

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Sounds totally up my alley and it's one that's on my massive TBR pile too (signed by Julia herself!). I think what makes this work is as Caridad said, because it's universal to so many cultures, not just Argentine or the broader Latin diaspora, but for anyone whose family has relocated.

And as far as breaking out of ruts, I'm getting ready to do just that by moving from Florida to Seattle. Go big or go home, right? *g*

Tracy Montoya said...

Hey, Barb, I have an ARC, so maybe it'll be a collectors item, too. : ) I'm moving from Florida to Wisconsin at the end of October, so we'll have to compare notes. Enjoy the mountains!

Princess Bumblebee said...

Hey, Bellas! Welcome, everyone! Wow, I didn't even know there was a National Hispanic Heritage Month, hehe. Interesting about how they got the dates, too.
When I was first reading this it made me think of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" only a little different. And it's got a great romance story, as well. It's great to hear there are more books more people can relate to, hehe.
As for getting out of a rut, still thinking maybe I should move to California. Stay with my brother and live the sunny California life, hehe

LauraGuevara08 said...

I too can't wait to read my copy! I am a big fan!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buongiorno, Bellas! Thank you, Tracy, for this lovely feature. I'm looking forward to reading this novel because, as so many have said already, it speaks to many of us about our upbringing. Truly universal, sure. But for me, the pressure growing up as a good Italian girl w/the attendant expectations vs "American" influence was, not exactly a struggle, but definitely a challenge. So much tradition is beautiful. And in my family, my mother didn't always keep the best tradition, because her mother came from Italy at a time when very few folks kept much of the beautiful things about their heratige, least outside the home.

Yet the hard-to-live w/stuff, oh,man, that the women in my family had no problem passing down to the daughters. :)

Another thing that really struck me, which you related, Tracy, was Victoria's concern about moving from 'one man's home to another's." I had no problem identifying with that, as part of the tradition I learned had to do with very strong messages about the superiority of men and women needing them to take care of us. Or something like that.

Tracy Montoya said...

Princess, it kind of reminded me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, too--that whole caught between two cultures thing, breaking free from old traditions that aren't exactly women-friendly, etc. It has the same broad appeal, too.

California would be so nice. Sometimes I get mad at my family for settling in Wisconsin. I mean, do you really need all that snow? Really?

Tracy Montoya said...

Welcome, Laura! Judging from your post, you probably know that Julia also writes as Lara Rios. Those books are well worth reading, too!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hi, Caridad! Looking forward to your visiting here, soon. I wonder, isn't there always some defining moment that makes us aware we've got to -- or at least got the right to -- pull away from family to make ourselves happy? It doesn't mean we don't love them, just that we all want to grow.

Hi, Barbara! Have a great move! Tracy's on her way to a big one, too, and our little family has made two big'ns in the last 5 years, from MA to MN to IL. I like the 'fresh start' nature of moving. I hear Seattle is fab.

Tracy Montoya said...

Michelle, that's so interesting about how similar your Italian family was to the Torres family in this book. I actually didn't have to deal with this kind of pressure. My mom is Honduran and my dad is Anglo, and both of them always made a point of letting me know they had very high expectations for me, wanted me to go to college, and if I wanted to live at home or away from home once I was an adult, that was my decision. My mom is a force of nature, so no one was going to keep her daughter down if she had anything to say about it! My Honduran aunts are the same way. But I think everyone can relate to the need to please your parents, and how you balance that with your own goals as you become an adult. There's so much to this story that draws you in that I didn't have the space to talk about. There's a subplot with Victoria's mother and how she takes a stand in a marriage to a workaholic husband that's really nice, too.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

"Big, Fat Greek Wedding" has that universality, too, principessa! Dave just watched it last weekend, and reminded me of when we first saw it. we'd just kept looking at each other nodding and rolling our eyeballs as if to say, "yeah, been there, know those folks.'

But there's great comfort, too, among folks who've got similar backgrounds, especially folks who've got immigrant parents and grandparents. Growing up, I'd gravitate toward new friends, and we'd always end up eventually, "Your folks are from Poland? My grandmother's from Italy. Meet my friend whose folks are from Panama." You don't have to have family from "the other side," as we always always call Italy, :), or another country but there can be an understanding, or an ease in bonding, I guess, that comes from it. hmmm...

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

That's so cool, Tracy. You're very fortunate. I guess there was a weird dichotomy in my family, too. I was supposed to go to college and succeed, but the stronger message from my mom was the above. Probalby had to do with the time she grew up in, and the lack of choices she and her mother had.

It took me a long time to figure out things for myself inthe way I noted in my comment to Caridad.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Tracy, This sounds like a lovely book - yet another to add to my ridiculous TBR!

Michelle, as a second-gen Italian-American, I missed a lot of the social pressure that my mother and aunts felt. My grandmother was a real dragon to them, keeping them under strict watch and ultra-suspicious of any friends outside the Italian community in Philadelphia. My aunts complained that even in their twenties, my grandmother would come down on them like a ton of bricks, especially if she suspected them of dating Irish-Americans! And both my mother and my aunts went from their parents' home straight into marriage, even though they all married fairly late. That was just the way things were done.

rita said...

Clash of the cultures is a great way to put it Caridad. Okay I'm showing my age here but while my father was away at war (that would be WWII) my mother and I lived with her parents, Spanish immigrants, who ran a small restaurant. When Daddy came home I spoke no English. Daddy BTW was 100% Irish. For a very long time probably until after I was 10 whenever I got mad or frustrated I reverted to speaking Spanish. Okay, we had the 'family' thing going on big time. My mother had six siblings and I had a half a zillion cousins that were constantly together. Hug and kisses always. It was a way of life. Then I would go north to spend the summer with Daddy's family. He had ten siblings and there I had a full zillion cousins. But, so weird -no one was free with hugs and kisses or I love yous. A few years ago one of my up north cousins said they were so jealous of me when I visited. I was surprised and asked if it was because I'm so beautiful. She was quick to answer no on that and said it was because Grandma and the aunts and uncles always hugged and kissed me. I really had to laugh because I was such a spoiled rotten brat I would go to them and tell them, pretty close to demand, I needed a kiss or a hug and wouldn't leave them alone until they said 'love you'. I was addicted to that behavior.
I don't think it is a clique to say I owe my love of romance to my Latin heritage. And geesh--- I guess I just added another book "Evenings at the Argentine Club" to the TBR stack.
Rita

Tracy Montoya said...

Vanessa, maybe we should have a competition--the one with the worst book addiction wins.

Your grandmother sounds like a force! It's so funny to remember that there used to be an anti-Irish bias, once upon a time.

Tracy Montoya said...

Rita, I think your family is lucky to have you! My Dad's side is Czech and they used to be really ... repressed might be the right term. My grandparents didn't really hug or say I love you, and my six uncles are super-quiet and only speak when the moon is in the 8th house of Aquarius. Fortunately, Grandma and Grandpa lightened up when they had grandkids, and my uncles now have a bunch of women in the house who make them talk. Families like that need some light!

Princess Bumblebee said...

I can't really say that I have a family that was culture oriented, not unless you count sex, drugs, and rock n' roll, as well as motorcycles, a culture, hehe. I guess one could,hehe. But, I always found that interesting and if I get married, hope he comes from a big fat something family, hehe. They seem like they have so much fun.
Yay! Just got the books I ordered off of Amazon! You know what I'll be doing!

Tracy Montoya said...

Oooh, oooh, what'd ya get? (NOT that I need any more book recs.) My husband has a big family, but some of them are kind of insane. : ) So wish for a big fat SANE something family....

Miriam Parker said...

Great post! Don't miss this interview with Julia Amante recorded yesterday.

Becke Davis said...

EVENINGS AT THE ARGENTINE CLUB sounds wonderful, and it's a fabulous cover! I just love books about the guy the heroine knew back in the day. This blog is very bad for my TBR pile!

Princess Bumblebee said...

Tracy, I got "Tails of Love" anthology as well as "Must Love Hellhounds" anthology. Lisa Wingate's "Talk of the Town" which is hilarious! Marjorie M. Lui's "Tiger Eye", John Grisham's "Playing For Pizza", Tara Janzen-"Breaking Loose", and Anne Gracie-"To Catch A Bride". As you Bellas know, this is only the drop of the hat compared to my bookshelf, hehe, or the TBR bookshelf, hehe.

Tracy Montoya said...

Cool, Miriam--thanks so much for letting us know. I've got it in the background right now. (Sorry, Julia, for missing the live show!)

Tracy Montoya said...

Becke, I agree about the blog. I've been a sad-sack slacker about posting since we're in the middle of a house sale/move, but I fear the day we're settled and I actually get here more often. I agree--the cover and reunion books are both excellent.

Tracy Montoya said...

Princess, mine is so bad--and moving really drives that home. How sick and wrong is it that I packed up my books and had one plastic crate full of those I thought I could get through in the next two or three months, and it's DOUBLED in size in the meantime! Your Amazon order sounds fun!

Julia Amante said...

Hi everyone.

Thanks for the great review! And around here, we all feel like breaking into a "Don't cry for me Agentina" Evita/Madonnaish style. Loved that movie. We dragged all our friend to see that when it was released, until friends stopped coming around . . .
Interesting about why Hispanic Heritage month is split. Didn't know.

Thanks again!

Julia

Tracy Montoya said...

Julia, I wonder if they take away your Latina card for not knowing about Hispanic Heritage Month. Loved the book--thanks for stopping by!

Gayle Sharpe said...

Tracy, thanks for such an informative article - great book, a little history, some personal info.

Third-generation American here, but I don't have any stories about it. :)

Mayra Calvani said...

Great review, Tracy! I'm reading it right now and so far love it! :-)

Sylvia Mendoza said...

You go, Julia!! Great review, Tracy. I was just talking to a friend about the roles we take on in our families, sometimes not so willingly, and all the expectations that come with that. Tough sometimes. Can hardly wait to read this Julia. Wishing you sales beyond your wildest dreams. Sylvia

Tracy Montoya said...

Gayle, I'm sure you have other stories to tell. : ) Thanks for stopping by!

Tracy Montoya said...

Thanks, Mayra! So glad you stopped by.

Tracy Montoya said...

Sylvia, welcome to RBTB! I think all women have to deal with those roles, just by the nature of being women. Julia's book is a great reminder not to let those roles pull us under.

Julia Amante said...

I love reading all these comments! Especially about your families. One thing that I missed was not having family close by. My "family" consisted other Argentine families that my father sort of picked up. Not the same . . .

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Tracy, thank you for being such a lovely hostess yesterday and this morning! Julia's comment a few moments ago reminded me of a story I wanted to tell yesterday, but got buried in work and was unable to stop back in and bore you with.

In my early 20s, I, too, was kind of 'picked up' along the way by an Argentine family. More specifically, an extended Argentine family and one particular guy and his Panamanian wife who (the wife) decided to kind of mentor me. For whatever reason, I was scooped into the fold. And in addition to the extendeds, there were so many like me kind of velcro'd to this gang, or clan, as they called themselves. We were so many different cultures. But we all gathered at their home, and always knew that was a place we could meet, where folks who wanted to speak Spanish to someone after a long week of nothing but English could, and folks visiting from So or Central America could practice English on the Nice Italian Girl who'd then force them to listen to her pathetic Spanish. And the food, the asados, the dancing and music, was really cool. And a mixture, too, of academics and working folks. I also spent a couple weeks in Argentina w/this family, very cool to see some different aspects of the society, the diff European cult influences from just the last century mixed w/the traditional. But very familiar to me was the feel of family and structure and expectation.

Oh, and in Argentina at that time, gender roles were extremely well defined. They may be different now, but 25 years ago in Buenos Aires, a woman did not look a man in the eyes on the street; it was seen as an invitation. And there very much still was the 'proper young lady' pressure. It was interesting observing all this when visiting w/my friends and looking at it from an American pov. And, yeah, the people were absolutely beautiful. I'd never seen anything like it.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

And, Tracy, we all feel for you w/your move, and just are happy to see you whenever you're able to say hi. :) But don't think we're offering to help pack, or anything.

Judith Leigh said...

This sounds like a book that I would enjoy reading. I love to read about other cultures. So this will go on my to buy list.

Becke Davis said...

I've read a lot of books with a Latino flavor -- I just enjoy them. Plus, I think the culture is familiar to most of us in America, so I have no trouble making myself at home in the books.

Caridad Pineiro said...

Checking back because I was away for a few days at the fabulous Moonlight & Magnolias conference in Atlanta.

There definitely is a time where you find yourself pulling away from the things in your life or just being pulled away. I experienced that while I was growing up in Levittown where there were few Latinos. College just broadened the gap.

After my daughter was born, I was watching THE JOY LUCK CLUB and suddenly asked myself - What would I leave her of myself. Bawling ensued, but so did a desire to reconnect with my roots.

Thanks, Tracy and everyone for this great discussion. Also, thanks Julia, mi amiga, for a wonderful book!