Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pg. 69: Michele Morano's "Grammar Lessons"

The current entry at the Page 69 Test: Michele Morano's Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain.

About the book, from the publisher:

In the thirteen personal essays in Grammar Lessons, Michele Morano connects the rules of grammar to the stories we tell to help us understand our worlds. Living and traveling in Spain during a year of teaching English to university students, she learned to translate and interpret her past and present worlds — to study the surprising moments of communication — as a way to make sense of language and meaning, longing and memory.

Morano focuses first on her year of living in Oviedo, in the early 1990s, a time spent immersing herself in a new culture and language while working through the relationship she had left behind with an emotionally dependent and suicidal man. Next, after subsequent trips to Spain, she explores the ways that travel sparks us to reconsider our personal histories in the context of larger historical legacies. Finally, she turns to the aftereffects of travel, to the constant negotiations involved in retelling and understanding the stories of our lives. Throughout she details one woman’s journey through vocabulary and verb tense toward a greater sense of her place in the world.

Grammar Lessons illustrates the difficulty and delight, humor and humility of living in a new language and of carrying that pivotal experience forward. Michele Morano’s beautifully constructed essays reveal the many grammars and many voices that we collect, and learn from, as we travel.

Among the early praise for Grammar Lessons:

“On one level, Grammar Lessons is a vivid, compelling meditation on traveling abroad. On another, the author, Michele Morano, uses her travel experience — the exhilarations and dislocations, the unbidden surprises and disappointments — as a lens through which she examines more deeply what it means to be human.”
—Michael Steinberg, founding editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction and author of Still Pitching

"Morano powerfully uses her personal stories to illustrate the principles of grammar — or is it the other way around? The principles of grammar exist to shed light on her highly personal narrative. Perhaps that is why this nonfiction book is so engaging."
Elizabeth Cho, KGB Bar lit

"I've never read a book quite like Michele Morano's account of her love affair with the Spanish language and with contemporary Spain. Without pretension, Grammar Lessons accomplishes so much: it is prose poetry, a traveler's tale, reflexive ethnography, a meditation on the possibilities of translation, and a gorgeous memoir of a woman's search for a new language that can help her to know better who she wants to be. This book sings to me -- to say it in Spanish, me encanta."
—Ruth Behar

"In 13 lyrical essays, Morano details the personal impact of her long relationship with Spain, beginning with her first visit at age 18, continuing through a post-graduate year teaching English in Oviedo and a series of return trips a decade later. As a guiding theme, Morano uses the rules of grammar to organize and explain how Spain has affected her life. (The word "grammar," she notes, has Latin roots meaning "the process of ingesting experience.") Against a dichotomous Spanish backdrop of stillness and bravado, Morano proves her versaility in topics such as grammatical moods, motion sickness and having (or not) the panache to dine alone. Teaching and being taught provide a recurring through-line. One lesson she teaches is that "language is power," urging her students to "take notice, again and again, until a word feels less like an enemy than like a piece of fruit they want to pick and bite into." Learning experiences include an awe-inspiring jaunt into an ancient cave and a moving visit to Guernica, in which Morano narrates, superbly, the attack that inspired Picasso's famous painting. Having carried the angst of a failed relationship with her across the Atlantic, Morano does not lack for internal dialogue and thoughtful self-questioning; these slick travel stories hide a wealth of lived experience."
Publishers Weekly

Learn more about Grammar Lessons at Morano's official website.

Read Morano's entry (March 2007) at the "Writers Read" blog.

The Page 69 Test: Grammar Lessons.

--Marshal Zeringue