Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Mexican Time (1999)

On Mexican Time is the travelogue of Tony Cohan and his wife Masako Takahashi. They leave LA on holiday, return home, pack it up, sell their house, and move to San Miguel de Allende for the next 15 years. Tony learns the language, makes friends, and comments on the culture but something in his account is missing ....

About halfway through the book, I realize Tony's wife is not an integral part of the story. The author will comment on her art, or an exhibit she's having, but rarely does he mention what they do together as a couple. Masako is portrayed as someone constantly shopping for trinkets and objects. After wandering town or country side, Tony will return home and describe items left on the dining room table, but not how he reconnects with his wife. In fact, only once do I detect real intimacy between them. (Tony and Masako take a side trip and share stories of their childhood.)

Occasionally, I sense a hardness in Masako, an unwillingness to carry on with a project or an anger at having been left to do it alone. During Semana Santa one year, Tony's daughter visits and is hospitalized with typhus. He spends the night at the hospital and throughout the whole ordeal does not mention his wife. Would she not share in her husband's concern or take part in this episode of their lives?

Overall, the description is strong but characterization is lacking in On Mexican Time. With the exception of Rene who becomes legend in the town and maybe Hillario who has an affair with one of the maids, Tony's friends seem more like acquaintances and Masako only a part of the story in the necessity of telling of it. The living character of Mexico unfortunately does not fill the gap for me. When Tony returns to America, his departure seems abrupt and his explanation for leaving empty (something about "business calls"). I was not surprised to learn later via google that Tony and Masako eventually divorced.

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