Thank you, Doubleday Books, for this copy of Things That Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini. All thoughts and images are my own.
Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)
Mere weeks after the 1992 riots that laid waste to Los Angeles, Eugenia, a typical Italian teenager, is rudely yanked from her privileged Roman milieu by her hippie-ish filmmaker parents and transplanted to the strange suburban world of the San Fernando Valley. With only the Virgin Mary to call on for guidance as her parents struggle to make it big, Hollywood-fashion, she must navigate her huge new public high school, complete with Crips and Bloods and Persian gang members, and a car-based environment of 99-cent stores and obscure fast-food franchises and all-night raves. She forges friendships with Henry, who runs his mother’s movie memorabilia store, and the bewitching Deva, who introduces her to the alternate universe that is Topanga Canyon. And then the 1994 earthquake rocks the foundations not only of Eugenia’s home but of the future she’d been imagining for herself.
I did not love this novel and I did not hate it. Chiara Barzini is a brave author and, I believe, quite a skilled writer. The pacing of this novel perfectly reflects Eugenia’s experience during these two years of troubled adjustment to Los Angeles. It meanders along, a series of events rather than a plot that charges ahead, but this lazy pace is interrupted with shocking events that stuck with me even after I had put the book aside for the day. My dreams were filled with variations of the trauma Eugenia was experiencing, proving to me that I was being affected by this story in ways I hadn’t seen. The moments that are supposed to be horrifying were just that. But then, with time (and pages), they fade and we are back to Eugenia’s less-than-normal daily existence.
This story is a true experience in putting on someone else’s shoes and walking a mile as a girl who was taken from a country she had not chosen to leave and forced into the life of a typical American teenager. For that opportunity, I felt this was a worthwhile read. If reading is able to teach us empathy, which I believe it is, especially reading narratives written in first person, this book does just that. Given the state of our nation, we can only be helped by learning more about those experiencing hate and discrimination in our country. This novel depicts her family’s struggle to re-enter the country, to visit the hospital in the case of true medical emergency, to be stuck without legal assistance even after they’ve been screwed over – things we take for granted.
Interested in this book? Click here to buy it on Amazon or find it at your local bookstore!