Monday, May 21, 2007

Stephanie Elizondo Griest's "Around the Bloc"

Stephanie Elizondo Griest has "volunteered at children’s shelters in Russia, polished propaganda in China, and belly danced with rumba queens in Cuba" -- and she wrote about it in her award-winning memoir: Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following, starting with the text from page 99:
CHAPTER 8: Nastayashii Russkii Muzhik: Real Russian Men

Just a few weeks before I departed for Moscow, I got dumped by the love of my life: a sultry colombiano named Mario. Eight years my senior, he'd combed South America and Cuba by motorcycle and North America by thumb and spun stories that rivaled those of my father and that CNN correspondent from long ago. Mario could have won me over with his adventures alone, but he also had an aquiline nose, Che Guevara hair, disarmingly blue eyes, and hands that stayed warm even when it was cold outside (from milking so many cows as a kid, he said). Those hands were the first to ever undress me, to touch, stroke, palm, caress me. I used to imagine those beautiful hands slipping a ruby ring onto my finger at an altar someday. Holding our thick-haired, olive-skinned children.

But then those very same hands reached deep inside my chest, yanked out my heart, slam-dunked it into a trashcan, and incinerated it.

I put up with far more grief than any woman ever should from Mario, and only in retrospect do I realize I did so because he was exactly the person I aspired to be: a traveler and a storyteller with a deep sense of home and family and culture. Mario.....

Page 99 commences the most (personally) painful piece of writing in Around the Bloc: an act of sexual violence I experienced while living in Moscow in 1996 as an exchange student/volunteer at a children’s shelter/girlfriend of a Mafiosi. This particular page represents the body of work in an ironic way, as Mario inadvertently inspired its creation. (He lured me back to the USA with promises of eternal togetherness, only to smash my heart a second time upon my arrival. Three days later, I started writing this book to heal and to forget.) Otherwise, page 99 strays significantly. Although I am an involved “narrator,” my memoir focuses on the lives of the extraordinary people I encountered over a four-year journey through the communist and post-communist bloc, and the adventures therein. And I don’t waste nearly as much ink mourning the men along the way!
Read an excerpt from Around the Bloc and visit Stephanie Elizondo Griest's website.

--Marshal Zeringue