The Opal Octopus

Reading and reviews by the Indian Ocean

Review: The House on Carnaval Street by Deborah Rodriguez


House on Carnaval Street, The
by Deborah Rodriguez

Published by Bantam Australia
on 2014
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 384
Review: The House on Carnaval Street by Deborah Rodriguez
Synopsis: From Kabul to a home by the Mexican sea ... A life-affirming, sea-change memoir by the author of the international bestseller The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul. 'I hadn't been planning on making Mexico my new home, but the little house on the sea was all that I had left.' When her family faces kidnap threats after the publication of her first book, Deborah Rodriguez is forced to flee Kabul, leaving behind her friends, her possessions, the beauty school she helped found and her two beloved businesses: a beauty salon and a coffee shop. But life proves no easier 'back home'. After a year living on top of a mountain in the Napa Valley and teetering on the edge of sanity, Deborah makes a decision. One way or another she's going to get the old Deb back. So, at the age of forty-nine, she packs her life and her cat Polly into her Mini Cooper and heads south to a pretty seaside town in Mexico. Home is now an unassuming little house on Carnaval Street. There she struggles to learn Spanish, works out with strippers and spends her Sunday nights watching clowns. And maybe u just maybe - the magic of Mexico will finally give her what she's always dreamed of: a life on her own terms . . .

The House on Carnaval St is a curious mix, folding a powerful narrative of PTSD into a humorous sea-change novel with an oft-irritating narrator. I’m not sure how successful this mix always was, but as a memoir, hey, often our actual lives are similarly jumbled and contradictory!

Rodriguez’ painting of the Mexican seaside town of Mazatlán was vibrant, and the story of her slow integration into the expat community was engaging. The narrative of her PTSD, resulting from her difficult experiences living in Afghanistan, was the strongest point of the novel for me. [Some detailed scenes may be difficult to deal with if you experience panic/anxiety/PTSD, so please be aware.]

I think what I found most difficult to deal with was the narrator’s attitude to her new community, which felt so heavily exoticised to me – “Look at this outlandish place where people eat on the street and the sewage doesn’t work! What personal growth I shall have here!” (Perhaps I’m just very wary of encountering a second Eat Pray Love…) And I know she is trying to be self-deprecating, but to live in Mexico for many months without making the tiniest bit of effort to learn a word of Spanish?  This was just plain angry-making for me. Ultimately this was a person of extreme relative privilege, who could buy a house outright and live for months on her savings… and she didn’t so much as bother to learn the language of the town she’d lobbed in on. Maybe this won’t annoy you as much as it did me! And the book definitely has its merits.

“My eyes were sealed shut against the flash of light still visible through the lids.

Then, silence. I took one deep breath, then another. The familiar aroma of frying peppers filled my nostrils. My stomach growled. A rooster crowed, echoed by his distant cousin miles away. I cautiously opened one eye, then the other. Three crumpled marigolds from the celebration the night before lay wilting on the terra-cotta tiles by the door. This wasn’t Afghanistan, this was Mexico. And I was okay. Hell, I tried to remind myself, I was better than okay.”

I received this book for review consideration from Netgalley.

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