Monday, March 7, 2011

Book Review: "You Know When the Men are Gone" by Siobhan Fallon

White privilege is the first word that comes to mind when I think back on this book. A Caucasian friend of mine was unaware of this term and advantage until a college Sociology course. This friend was American but born and raised overseas. His ignorance seemed feigned but I tried to take into consideration that Third Culture Kids (TCK) and Adults perceive things very differently and this may have accounted for that ignorance.

Mrs Fallon either deliberately or unintentionally perpetuated stereotypes of foreigners, African-Americans, Arabs and other minorities that were included in her stories. I found this very boring because it detracts from some of her excellent writing. She created characters that would have stood out more had they not been stereotyped as the ex-banker Caucasian male; the hypersexual, sexist, blood-hungry African-American who was listening to gangsta rap and had run out of money for college. The teacher who was "too blond", the moody teenager and the Mexicans who spoke Chicano English.

Stereotypes are not harmless. When the African-American is disrespectful to the Iraqi woman-- using sexual innuendo-- the night stalker has a Latino surname and the mention of Arab women in abayas somehow merits a ghost comparison, there is a problem.  It is not due to the political incorrectness, it is due to depending too heavily on such trite notions of people. I wish that I could patent or copyright every stereotype in order for them to never be used again.

Despite being fiction, it had a very familiar non-fiction quality about it to me.It reminded me of the chatty husbands and wives who would inherit information from their spouses and use it as fodder to gossip about all day and spread rumors that circulate the bases. Bases are usually circulating with rumors and this book gave us glimpses into each characters' lives. 

Mrs. Fallon's dialect and descriptions were excellent. I think that a Mexican who did not speak Spanish, however, makes for a more memorable character than one who speaks in Chicano English--or even a character who is capable of code-switching in order to demonstrate that he is street and book savvy.

Also, the psychology of the characters who were not heavily stereotyped compensated for those who were. I do not mean to sound as though I did not enjoy reading this book. I did, but I am looking forward to a book where the African-American is the general; the night-stalker is the least expected, most high-ranking official on the base and the stories are completed and not just glimpses into each characters' life.

3 out of 5 stars. What are your thoughts?

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