I recently read a book by Liza Bakewell
titled Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun
. It is an odd book and I think I give it an 83% recommendation. The author, a writer and anthropologist, has spent a lot of time in Mexico. She was shocked by Mexican expressions that included the word madre
and obsessed about it for years. I'm pretty sure she's still obsessing.
We've all been told that mothers are revered in Latino culture. So "how can 'me vale madre' mean worthless and '¡qué padre!' mean marvelous?" And there are a lot of such expressions that I'm not comfortable writing here. In the course of Bakewell's meanderings, she uncovers a lot of distressing gender-related cultural stuff. (I couldn't think of a better word.)
She also traces the historical development of language and of the infant's "ma" sound that presumably morphed into "mamá" and "mama". She has a wonderful list of other languages' versions of "mama". It includes Swahili, Hopi, Cree, Quechua, Basque, and many others. "Mama is for use inside the house. The Spanish madre, English mother, German mutter, Czech matinka, Slovak maminka, Polish matka, Albanian matrice are for use outside the house—more formal, more detached from its origins that way."
The book is far from linear and quite autobiographical. I think it is my left-brainedness that led to the 83% rating. I would have liked to find a great concluding paragraph to quote. I didn't. Bakewell's an anthropologist and she writes as she observes. Nonlinearly.
I've also just finished Henry Louis Gates book, Black in Latin America. I'll write more about it in another blog. It's fascinating as well. Yet somehow the autobiographical elements seemed awkward. As it did some in Bakewell's book. It's not that I don't like autobiographic information; it can personalize a reading and that should be a good thing. So, just now, I'm not clear why that component in the two books struck me as awkward. I welcome your thoughts about this.