Evening at the Argentine Club: A book written by Julia Amante
Grand Central Publishing 2009
By Richard Soto
If you want to read a book full of love, young and mature romance and all the challenges that go with both of them, then this is the book for you. In her first novel, author Julia Amante has taken on the challenge of describing love and has done an excellent job.
The novel revolves around the Argentinian immigrant families of Victor and Jacqueline Torres and their daughters Victoria and Carmen. Carmen is away at college studying to become a doctor. The second family consists of Antonio, Lucia and their son Eric Ortelli.
The Argentine Club is a center created by Argentinian immigrants where they can gather, celebrate Argentinian patriotic holidays, speak Spanish and keep their culture and language alive for themselves and their children—like Victoria, Carmen and Eric. It promotes the sentiment: “You have to work to keep the Argentine culture alive inside of you”: a sentiment that resonates like the message of La Jamaica/Comision Honorifica Mexicana on Lincoln Street in Stockton.
Victor Torres fell in love with his novia (girlfriend), Jacqueline, and brought her to the United States where he wanted to realize the American Dream. Antonio Ortelli fell in love with his novia , Lucia, and also promised her the American Dream. Victor works 24/7 and has a successful restaurant and after 30+ years decides that he wants to grow and create a chain. A problem: Victor does not share his decision with his family and over the past 30-years Jacqueline is beginning to feel neglect and the pains of empty nest syndrome.
Antonio Ortelli, on the other hand, has been a big risk taker but on more than one occasion he has come out behind, to the point that he loses Eric’s college fund, he is in a fight with his son and Eric leaves home in a fit of anger and does not return for many years. In this American dream struggle, Victor makes money but is on the verge of losing his wife and daughter, both of whom have dreams of their own. Along the way, Victor realizes that “all his life he thought he knew his family, and he didn’t know any of them. He hadn’t paid attention.” Antonio has kept the sparkle in his relationship, lost money and he is trying to win both back.
While I was reading this book I couldn’t help but think of that book “Passages” by Gail Sheehy that deals with predictable crises in one’s life, such as when Jacqueline states on pg. 252. “I was thinking not of seeing them, but about a lifetime of raising them. I swear, Lucia, I can still remember how they smelled when they were tiny, pudgy babies.” Pg.123, “It wasn’t new friends she was looking for, it was… a life.” And on pg. 169 on her mature relationship, “She’d mourned the passionate innocent, romantic part of their marriage long ago. That didn’t hurt anymore. But now she missed the friendship part that they’d developed in later years.”
Each couple has their trials and tribulations, but the overarching value of this book for parents and young adults are the lessons learned and steps taken to deal with challenges in one’s life. I had to stop and look for one of my most favorite counseling books, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else,” by Dr. David Campbell, Ph.D. first published in 1974 and used by me as a counselor since 1976.
Some examples: pg. 133 Eric talking with Victoria “Vicky, you’ve gotta accept yourself better your dreams, your body. It’s who you are.” Pg. 153 on not letting things just happen, “one bag full of makeup, brushers and combs, her blow dryer, hair straightener, curler, lotion, creams, deodorants, toothbrushes, and birth control pills.” On planning and getting a mentor pg. 164, “as part of her registration process, she had a counseling session. Victoria spent a couple of hours discussing her goals and planning her courses.” We all need a support team and Victoria’s consisted pg. 164 “Douglas is the one who recommended I get my degree. He’s my cheerleader and my friend. He’s right about absolutely everything.” On making space for what you want to happen, pg. 206 Victoria, “bought a journal and a planner to create a new plan for her future.”
I thought for sure that Juliana was a psychologist, marriage counselor, interior decorator, carpenter chef and many other things to have written such a wonderful book.
Now on the bad side, again, the Argentinian characters all seem to have readily available money to pay cash. Eric is writing one check after another, taking his graduation class on a cruise, buys a fixer-upper, and pays workers. Victor is investing in multiple restaurants, Jacqueline goes on a cruise, Carmen is getting her college paid for and Victoria still lives at home.
There are instances of discrimination but again the author does not explore this sufficiently. She describes the misidentification of all Latinos as Mexicans and leaves it at that. Then when Steven punches Eric in the face after telling him that he is pretty much white washed and too good for other Argentinians, the author drops out and we do not hear from Steve again…
This and Ms. Amante’s second book were both excellent in dealing with the Latino family navigating through tough time in a changing society.