Sunday, June 26, 2011

REVIEW: Purgatory Inn by Ernesto Jose Herrera


With new illegal immigration legislation in Arizona and Georgia dominating the headlines, Author Ernesto Jose Herrera releases his book, Purgatory Inn that speaks to this contentious issue and portrays the people behind this international controversy.

Purgatory Inn, a novel by Ernesto Jose Herrera, follows a group of immigrants, some of them in danger of deportation, as they struggle to survive in an old Los Angeles tenement. Each of the residents left family, friends, homes and everything familiar to them behind to begin a new life in a strange country.

When Lucio stepped off the bus in Los Angeles in search of shelter, he never imagined he would find a tenement that doubled as a vibrant community that would welcome him into its ranks. A philosophy teacher in his home country, Lucio was driven from his country by war and arrived in the United States seeking a new start. His neighbor, Addeo Galan, had moved to the building after her escape from a broken marriage. Their lives are complicated by John Spencer, an American journalist with feelings for Addeo. Now the trio must navigate their relationships and personal challenges while living under the ever-present threat of arrest and deportation.

“Immigration is not easy,” Herrera says. “Leaving your family behind, moving into a culture with a different language, different expectations and different norms. It’s not easy to find the resources to pay for food, rent, health care and education while trying to be happy, enjoy love, maintain friendships and achieve goals.”

The book seeks to portray the challenges of blending into a new society while maintaining a separate identity that is true to one’s origins. Filled with detailed descriptions of Los Angeles’ communities where recently-arrived immigrants find housing and basic services, the book aims to reveal a world that many readers have never experienced.

About the Author

Ernesto Jose Herrera is a writer, educator and former human resources professional. Born in Mendoza, Argentina, Herrera migrated to the United States in 1965. He lived in Los Angeles for many years teaching languages and working with working class immigrants during the day and artists and musicians at night. He has written lyrics, poems, short stories and screenplays. He now resides in Austin, with his wife and daughter. 

My Thoughts
It was a big fire. Although it did not have the dimensions that turn a blaze into a subject of historical proportions, it did manage to destroy the old tenement.
Town/Location/Environment: This book takes place in an immigrant tenement in Los Angeles.

I received this book last year for review, and I actually began reading it in November/December. Unfortunately I misplaced the book before Christmas, so my review was further delayed. I finally found the book stashed in a backpack in a closet and was able to finally read it, and am really glad I finally did!

This book allowed me a peek into a culture I was previously only loosely familiar with, and I'm grateful for that. It could be difficult at times for me to keep track of the characters. It was probably about halfway through the book that I got the hang of who was who. All of the "A" names threw me for a loop!

One of my favorite characters was Lucio. He's sort of the star of the story to me. Haunted by his own ghosts, he's just trying to survive. And by the end of the story, I'd become quite fond of Adalberto as well.

It was great to see a parrot by the name of Perico in this story. My brother has a parrot that he got back around 1985, and it came from some place like Honduras. He brought it home from his job at a pet store and left it with me (I was home sick from school that day) before heading back off to work again. He told me before he left that the bird didn't know anything-- didn't talk or do any tricks-- so don't expect anything. Well, let me tell you! When he came home that night I said, "It doesn't do anything? Are you kidding?" He asked what I meant. I told him that the bird hadn't stopped all day! It had been wolf whistling and crying like a baby and saying something that sounded like "perico". I later found out from my Spanish teacher that "perico" meant "small parrot". Our guess was that the parrot was kept around a house or something for awhile after he was caught in the wild, and they probably referred to him as "perico" and there was probably a crying baby around, and that was where he'd picked up his "tricks". So it was a nice reminder of those early days with Bubba to see a parrot by the name of Perico in this story.

I'm the type of person that always likes to see both sides of every story and issue. So it was very good for me to see the other side of immigration. It had never occurred to me that many of the illegal immigrants in this country may be escaping persecution, torture, rape and murder in their own countries. It gave me something to think about.

I found some of the dialogue to be lacking, seeming very gratingly "simplistic", yet other dialogue could be quite beautiful. However I found the story in general quite well written and engaging.

Are we witnessing rough inscriptions in graves and tombs? Expressions of final grief, pain and helplessness? Perhaps 'I love Sylvia,' really means, 'Sylvia, please love me!' Maybe 'Anselmo,' written on some wall in Echo Park, is really saying, 'I do not want to be ignored!' Maybe all the 'Vivas!' in those streets are shouting, 'Death!' Perhaps we are losing something in the translation. Perhaps, instead of paint, we are truly seeing blood. (p. 105)
The day of the party, the courtyard became transformed in a fair where everything that could happen happens...the result is always the same, a celebration where the first to arrive are the last to leave, and the last to come had better bring their own drinks. (p. 152)
Maria lowered her head, making no promises, turned around and walked away as Adalberto looked at the innocent Cupid, who so gratuitously dispensed joy and pain regardless of the recipient's faith and strength to endure both. (p. 154)

Vocabulary Lesson:

Prepotent- Greater than others in power or influence.
Usage: He was a prepotent, unforgiving man who saw that tenants paid their rent on time while dismissing any complaints concerning plumbing, pest control, water heaters, broken stoves and leaking roofs. (p. 79)

Oligarch- A very rich businessman
Usage: The undecipherable dreams of lonely intellectuals and fat oligarchs could never address that truth. (p. 169)

Content Rating: A touch of vulgarity and a few mild sexual situations.

My final word: A thought-provoking story with indelible characters giving a glimpse into the world of immigration. Well worth the read.

My Rating: 8 out of 10


I received a copy of this book to review from the author, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

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