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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

New in Paperback- Perpetual West by Mesha Maren

Perpetual West by Mesha Maren
Publiblished by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781643753409
Trade paperback, $16.99, 400 pages

With so much happening at the US-Mexico border, Mesha Maren's novel, Perpetual West, brings a fascinating perspective as told through the lens of a young married couple, Alex and Elana, who have moved from West Virginia to El Paso.

Alex was born in Mexico and adopted by a missionary couple from West Virginia. He moved in with Elana and her father and brother, and eventually he married Elana, his best friend. He wanted to go to Mexico to learn more about his heritage, so he and Elana are attending college in El Paso.

They frequently cross the border to Mexico, as Alex wants to study lucha libre, Mexican wrestling, for his thesis. He meets one of the wrestlers, Mateo, and quickly falls in love with him. When Elana goes back to West Virginia to welcome her brother Simon home from drug rehab, Alex and Mateo spend the week together.

Elana doesn't speak Spanish very well, and feels left out when she and Alex go to Juarez. She also has decided to drop out of college and is secretly battling anorexia. Her trip home brings up memories of her mother's death when Elana was just a young child.

When Alex doesn't pick up Elana from the airport, she fears something bad happened to him. The police tell her that Alex probably ran away, and they have so many missing people to look for, he is not a priority.

There is so much in this wonderfully written story. Even though there are many characters in the book, Maren manages to make us care about each of them. Elana, Simon, Mateo, Alex- each one is compassionately portrayed.

Her rendering of the settings- the city of Juarez, the drug cartel head's massive compound, Elana's apartment- are all drawn so you feel like you are right there. You can almost taste the delicious foods from her descriptions as well. 

Maren's comparison of what happened to people who worked in the factories that moved from El Paso to Juarez to the miners of West Virginia- "both placed stretched thin, cadavered for their resources and labor and then abandoned, their people rendered subhuman in the national dialogue"- is eye-opening.

I also found her comparison of the migrants crossing into the United States for better opportunities to the people who moved west in the United States intriguing. One group is looked upon as brave frontiersmen forging a new life by opening up borders, the others are derided as "illegal aliens". 

Perpetual West gives the reader a lot to ponder in this propulsive novel and there is a lot going on- love, art, violence, political issues, trauma, religion- enough to keep the reader engaged and thinking about this book long after it's over. It's easy to see why so many publications chose it as one of the Most-Anticipated Books of 2022. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Mesha Maren's tour.

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