A MESSAGE FROM GOD IN THE ATOMIC AGE by Irene Vilar

A MESSAGE FROM GOD IN THE ATOMIC AGE

A Memoir
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A lyrical and visionary memoir of depression, Puerto Rican identity, and young womanhood. Vilar, a Puerto Rican student at Syracuse University in 1988, attempts suicide and ends up in a psychiatric hospital. This memoir moves back and forth between the hospital and college, the hospital and Vilar's girlhood in Puerto Rico, and most of all, between the hospital and her reflections on her mother and grandmother, both of whom also attempted suicide. Her grandmother was Lolita Lebron, a Puerto Rican nationalist who, one afternoon, along with three male comrades, opened fire on the US Congress, declaring, ``I did not come here to kill, I came here to die.'' Lebron was sentenced to 57 years in prison and served 27. Irene's mother jumped from a speeding car, finally ending her life after years of threatening her unfaithful husband--and her young daughter--with her suicide. Eight-year-old Irene had tried unsuccessfully to keep her mother from leaping. The memoir explores Vilar's struggle with these ghosts and the conflicting legacies her grandmother and mother leave behind. Despite Lolita's years in prison, and the rape and torture she endured there, ``she knew how to find her voice in solitude.'' By contrast, ``Mama was a free woman in Puerto Rico and she ended up flung onto a road like a character in a gothic novel.'' Vilar reflects eloquently on the attraction of suicide for women. She perceptively explores, too, the unique paradoxes of Puerto Rican identity--American yet not American, a separate nation overshadowed, almost overwhelmed, by North America. Vilar's prose is stunning; she delivers exacting detail: for instance, the pathos of a new hat decorated with bird featrhers, worn by a disturbingly birdlike mental patient. Vilar not only tells her own story well, but, even more unusually, she sharply and originally negotiates larger subjects- -identity, narrative, patriarchy, nationalism, and motherhood. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: July 31st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-42281-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1996