I was hooked! As a young girl yearning for my Mexican home, my culture, my language, I was hooked on the Spanish channel’s soap operas. Las telenovelas, as popular as the US soap operas and perhaps more so, were my childhood vice. My memories take me back to an 8 year old girl sitting in front of the television after a long day in public school. At a place where I would have to speak English, learn English grammar, read English books, and do everything English, coming home to mi telenovela en español was the ultimate reward for the exhausting drudgery called school. I would unpack my school gear, fix myself a snack, and sit inches away from the black and white, 24” television set. I never cared to greet our nana as I was always attempting to circumvent her detection of my arrival. You see, she was anti-telenovelas. Even though she also came from Mexico and missed her home and family just as much as I, she disliked my childhood vice. So much so that she did everything possible to drag me away from the TV and hinder my wide-eyed viewing. Why was I hooked? I cannot remember a single storyline, or a particular character, or any of the usual recurring actors, I am certain though, that the only possible attraction was that of the telenovela’s cultural familiarity and escape from my present reality.
So when I received a review copy of Victor Cass’ novel, Telenovela, those youthful and immature memories came rushing back, as fleeting as these dramatic, love stories. Two dramatic storylines mischievously intertwined and foreshadowing each other. Two telenovelas in one, filled with love, lust, convenient relations and true friendships, as well as the usual key ingredients of infidelity, betrayal, and family unity. This soap opera is divided in eight parts, episodes that introduce the reader to the key characters, Miriya Fronzini, known to her family as Junior, and Lorena Sandoval of the primary telenovela, while the secondary telenovela is playfully woven into each of these episodes to introduce Arturo, Sofia, and Carmen. An appealing writing technique in an attempt to reproduce the spectator’s feeling of sitting at the edge of his/her seat, anxiously waiting to see what comes next, making it difficult to put down the book.
Certainly the top attribute of this novel is the characters themselves, at least in the primary telenovela. Not for the lives they lead or the story they tell, but for who they are. Victor Cass gives his readers the enlightening opportunity to meet a variety of ethnic characters all living amongst each other without grouping them into divided racial gangs. Moreover, the reader has the pleasure of meeting a diverse lineup of Latino characters that come from a variety of South American ancestries and varying generationally that is, some may be first, second, or third generation US born, while others are immigrants. Readers meet an Argentinean immigrant daughter, a best friend Polish Jew, an Armenian elementary teacher, a first generation Mexican-American, as well as an Ethiopian waiter, and so on. Each of them shares her culture, his customs, her language, her dialect, and his prejudices, all the while loving, fighting, lusting, and making peace.
Telenovela is a fun and light read, however if the reader pays attention (s)he will experience a lively, cultural lesson.
By Victor Cass
Paperback, 282 pages, $17.95