ALMOST A WOMAN by Esmeralda Santiago


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In this coming-of-age memoir, Santiago (When I Was Puerto Rican, 1990; America’s Dream, 1996) glosses over the powerful legacies of familial warmth and connection gleaned from her too-brief Puerto Rican childhood, and swims the lap to adulthood in New York City. When Santiago earns entry to the High School for Performing Arts in the late ’60s, her life begins. Forever after, she suffers and thrills at the distance that separates her life at home with Mami (and her ten other children) and her life outside. Her family moves constantly; she never really knows her father, whom Mami has left behind. The young Santiago is armed with bright candor and a fiery optimism. She longs for an exalted future. Her family’s strictness (no dating allowed) weighs on her. With sober resilience, she tries her hand in New York City’s performing arts world. High school had fine-tuned her creativity but didn’t really prepare her for the rough-and-tumble nature of it. While she dances in Latin clubs accompanied by her family, Santiago dreams she is “the pilot of [her] own plane and . . . everywhere I went people were happy to see me and no one asked me where I was from .” She writes honestly enough about adolescence, yet the link between her Latin origins and the nature of her creativity remains strangely neglected; real love seems to stay always one step ahead of her. She revels in the richness of being “a Puerto Rican ingenue/Cleopatra/Indian Classical dancer” onstage but here seems most articulate about life off the stage. The poetic possibilities of the memoir are lost to a finally tepid desire. Neither the artista Santiago dreams of becoming nor the woman she actually becomes emerge as clearly as the streets of Brooklyn, as the people who guide her, or as the man she finally abandons. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-7382-0043-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Perseus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998


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