An Interview with Author Evelyn Kohl LaTorre

By: Angie Haddock


Earlier this week, we reviewed “Love in Any Language,” by Evelyn Kohl LaTorre. I read an advanced copy through the Books Forward program, and the lovely folks at Books Forward also shared the following interview with LaTorre.


Q: You detail it in your first book, “Behind Inca Walls,” but can you give a quick summary of how you and your husband met?

A: My future father-in-law, Adolfo Eguiluz, had requested Peace Corps volunteers to work in Abancay, Peru, for several years. My roommate, Marie, and I went there to work on community development projects. Four months into our stay, we met Eguiluz’s stepson, Antonio, and I felt an immediate attraction. He returned to Abancay often.

Q: What were some unexpected challenges or surprises that you noticed at the beginning of your relationship?

A: One was how deeply Antonio cared about my well-being. As well as how volatile our feelings for one another could be, changing from cool to warm to hot and back to cool again. He also wanted me to pursue graduate studies — though he was dissatisfied with his own course of study.

Q: Did your studies in psychology and multiculturalism help you through some of the learning curves of a relationship with someone of a different nationality and ethnicity?

A: Very much. I learned that personal relationships are more important in life than material possessions and bodily comforts. In college, my favorite classes were psychology, anthropology and sociology — how countries and people are similar and different in their values, food, music, manners and priorities.

I had been enamored with the Hispanic culture since college when I volunteered among California’s migrant workers in the Central Valley. Also, the theory of personality types has offered me an explanation for human differences.

Q: What advice can you give about raising bi-cultural children?

A: Listen and learn about your partner’s culture. Then, agree on your priorities and the values you want to impart to your children. There are many ways to live life other than the way you were raised. Learn what science has discovered about children’s emotional needs. You may find a healthier way to raise offspring than how the previous generation did it.

Our children are open to differences between races, income levels and customs because they’ve experienced different cultures with diverse expectations. They tend to be flexible and accepting of others unlike them.

Q: Was it difficult for you while writing the book to disclose personal information and stories? How do you decide what information to include and what topics are off-limits?

A: It was more difficult with the first book because I wrote about an important religious rule that I broke. (Angie’s note: Getting pregnant before she was married.) Initially, I felt afraid of being judged in the same way my mother had judged (me). I knew a memoir writer can be harshly criticized by others who have narrow viewpoints of what is right and wrong. People like to judge others’ decisions when they don’t mirror their own.

I remember the day I presented the chapter about the circumstances of my first pregnancy to my writer’s critique group in front of male members. I was super self-conscious and embarrassed. But I soon discovered that writing about uncomfortable incidents takes away their shame. Being honest about one’s life is a relief.

Q: What were some of the expectations society placed on you as a wife and a mother? What changes have you personally seen regarding gender roles for women in the past 60 years?

A: In the 1970s a husband was expected to be the breadwinner and head of the household as opposed to sharing decisions and duties equitably. Improvement has certainly been slow.

In terms of changes in the workforce, when I was pregnant, pregnancy was seen as a disability that required leaving a job two months before the baby’s birth. Contraceptives had been available for only a few years. And employers today can’t legally discriminate against a pregnant woman and force her to quit. Also during most of my career, women felt they could do little about sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement changed that.

Q: What do you hope readers gain from reading the story of you and your husband’s relationship?

A: The first is that the challenges of a mixed cultural marriage are worth the extra effort it takes. There is the potential to learn new, often better, ways to accomplish life’s tasks in an intimate relationship with someone from another country.

Marriage is like a dance but with both partners taking turns leading. It’s OK for one partner to step up and the other partner to step back as their situation requires it. It’s also sometimes worth “hanging in there” and persisting to make a marriage work.

And finally, there is value for both people in a partnership to use their strengths equally. A man comfortable in his own masculinity won’t fear a strong woman. The most important ingredient in a satisfying relationship is mutual respect and appreciation.

If you haven’t read our review of LaTorre’s new book – which came out this week – check it out here.


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“Love in Any Language” by Evelyn Kohl LaTorre – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Love across cultures is tested when Antonio, a penniless university student, and Evelyn, a strong-willed Peace Corps volunteer, succumb to their attraction to one another at the end of her two-year commitment in Peru and Evelyn gets pregnant. Deeply in love, the twenty-three-year-olds marry in Cusco—and decide to begin their married life in Northern California.

Goodreads


From reading the synopsis, I thought I would love this book. I did like this book, and it’s interesting for several reasons. But I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. I was struggling to put my finger on why, when the book itself answered my question for me in its last pages. And the reason was, admittedly, a little selfish. More on that later.

Obviously, the book is told from Evelyn’s perspective. She was born in Montana, as 1 of 6 kids in a blue collar, Roman Catholic family. Her parents moved to California as their kids got older, because they wanted them to have easier access to institutions of higher learning.

Right away we can see that, while Evelyn was raised in a pretty traditional manner, she and her family embrace a few more modern values. Not only did she expect to get a college education, but she also had her eyes on traveling internationally, and joined the Peace Corps. Not bad for a young woman in the early 1960s.

And this brings me to one of the key things I liked about this book: Evelyn was pretty ahead of her time in a lot of things. She was often juggling work and kids, and was sometimes even the breadwinner of the house. She continuously pursued higher degrees, additional certifications, more challenging jobs, and opportunities to travel – with or without her husband! She comes across as a strong woman – especially mentally.

Another interesting aspect is seeing how her work – and various things that intersect with it – evolved over the years. She started out in social work, and added psychology to the mix. She spent most of her career working within various school systems. She started out administering tests to determine students’ ability levels, and was later in charge of innovating ways to accommodate students who had different abilities. This book spans the 60s – 90s, mostly, and during that time we see new laws introduced that protect differently-abled students, and ensure their access to a public education. We also see the advent of computers, the introduction of the Meyers-Briggs personality test, and other concepts that affect Evelyn’s work.

While I found these aspects – and the international travels – fascinating, I still had a kind of “meh” feeling about some of the story. In thinking about it, I felt like every time she encountered a problem, it was solved within a page. I felt like the book lacked real conflict, basically. I’ve seen other reviewers applaud her “straightforward” writing style, so I thought maybe it was just that – she didn’t oversell or dwell on the issues. That made them feel a bit like non-issues to me, but I just kept rolling with it.

In the last pages, Evelyn puts out a thought that I hadn’t considered while in the midst of the story – but it definitely hit a chord with me, and I think it’s part of why I had trouble sympathizing with her “quick solutions.” Since the copy I read was an advanced copy, I won’t quote it directly. But the idea is that she benefited from many social nets that aren’t as easily available today – from low-cost childcare and subsidized housing to flexible work schedules and bosses that often gave her freedom to pursue what opportunities she wanted to.

Dr. Evelyn LaTorre accomplished a lot – and continues to do so, as this isn’t her first book! She was also helped by her family, and the many opportunities that were available to an educated woman at the time. If you have any interests in education or social work, I would definitely recommend her story.

“Love in Any Language” comes out today, September 28th. I was able to read an advanced copy through Books Forward.


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“America Calling” by Rajika Bhandari – Review

By: Angie Haddock


International students and immigrants have been the secret ingredient in America’s recipe for global success. America Calling shares one immigrant’s story, a tale that reflects millions more, and shows us why preventing the world’s best and brightest from seeking the American Dream will put this country’s future in jeopardy.

-Goodreads


This book was “right up my alley,” as the saying goes, and I almost missed out on reading it! I was approved for the advanced reader copy, but never saw that email – spam folder, maybe? – and didn’t find out until a few days before it came out! This is why I’m posting my review a week late – the book actually came out on September 14th.

The author came to the US as a grad student in the early 90s, and studied at a state school in North Carolina. Initially, she came because that is where her boyfriend was studying.

Later in life, though, she starts working for the Institute of International Education, which compiles data and research on exchange students in the US and elsewhere. So the first two-thirds of the book is her own story and experiences as a student first, then as an immigrant seeking a work visa. The last third of the book is other stories she’s compiled through her current job, as well as stats and figures from the world of international education.


Some statistics that struck me:

International students add $45 billion to the economy yearly. (Most pay their own way, or are awarded scholarships from their own countries to study abroad. Then, they still have to buy furniture and groceries here, like the rest of us.)

Only one out of ten US students studies abroad. (Meaning that an international student on their campus here may be their only exposure to other cultures.)

One out of four founders of start-ups valued at $1 billion first came to the US as an international student.

Then there are the softer stats, like how so many students who study here and return to their home countries become advocates for US universities, or the US at large. They offer a large and vast network of unofficial diplomats in all areas of the globe. Bhandari mentions the Fulbright scholarship program as a shining example of this. The program offers both scholarships for international students to study in the US, and ones for US students to study elsewhere. Over its history, it has sponsored 400,000 students. 39 of those have gone on to become heads of state in their home countries, 60 have won Nobel prizes, and 88 have won Pulitzer prizes.

Her own experiences are no less interesting, of course, although not as easy to break down into small bites. A few things she touches on, though, include reckoning with how Asians are considered the “model minority” here. Realizing that the freedoms she enjoyed as a woman in America made her unfit to return to her home country. Having to push hard to get through her masters and doctorate programs in 6 years, because being here on a visa meant she had strict time limits and couldn’t take any breaks.

I did study abroad when I was in college, albeit for only one semester. When I returned to my home campus, though, I joined a group whose members acted as unofficial ambassadors to the international students there. There were debates about food, music, and soccer – as would be expected – but there were also instances of giving rides to the grocery store or the mall. It was fun to have these conversations, and be able to pitch in on things like getting Christmas presents for their families back home. These experiences are why I said at the top that this book was “right up my alley,” of course. I had some exposure to international students when I was college-aged, and I appreciate knowing a little more about the issues surrounding studying internationally.

Thanks to Books Forward for introducing me to this one!

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“Beautiful Country: A Memoir” by Qian Julie Wang – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In Chinese, the word for America, Mei Guo, translates directly to “beautiful country.” Yet when seven-year-old Qian arrives in New York City in 1994 full of curiosity, she is overwhelmed by crushing fear and scarcity. In China, Qian’s parents were professors; in America, her family is “illegal” and it will require all the determination and small joys they can muster to survive.

Goodreads


This was a good, albeit sometimes heartbreaking, read. Because the main character is only a handful of years younger than I am, I could identify with some of her memories that related to pop culture – the clothes, toys, books, and TV shows of the nineties make many appearances.

Qian tells first of her life in China – or, what little she remembers of it, since she was fairly young. But overall, her life there was pretty good. Like most kids, she didn’t really think about it or worry too much – it just was what it was.

And then, her dad left to come to America. She began to fear that he wouldn’t come back. A year later, she and her mom joined him in New York City.

She had previously only known of America through TV and movies, and she had heard that everyone there was rich. So it boggled her mind that her family had to live the way they did while there.

They often shared one room, in houses where other rooms were rented to other families, and they all shared one bathroom and kitchen. There were sometimes rats. Her parents worked long hours in miserable conditions, in places like sweatshops and fish factories. They garbage-picked their furniture.

Qian herself was first put into special education classes, because she couldn’t speak English. It seemed no one at her school was entirely prepared to help her with that. But, with a library card and a love of reading, she soon taught herself. Kids are both smart and resilient.

Even when she started doing better in school, though, she couldn’t quite shake her “outsider” status. Mostly because her parents couldn’t afford the clothes, shoes, and toys that the other kids thought were cool year after year.

Her parents had both been professors in China. Her dad seemed resigned to his fate – that they’d just have to be poor in America. He was probably depressed. Her mom was not ready to give up so easily. She put herself through some additional schooling, with the hopes of getting better jobs someday. Her mom also got very ill for a while, however. After her recovery, she was determined to get herself and Qian out of their miserable conditions – even if Qian’s dad didn’t want to come along.

If you want to know what happens, pick up a copy – “Beautiful Country” comes out today! I was able to read an advanced copy through NetGalley and Doubleday Books.


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“Twice a Daughter” by Julie Ryan McGue – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Julie is adopted. She is also a twin. Because their adoption was closed, she and her sister lack both a health history and their adoption papers―which becomes an issue for Julie when, at forty-eight years old, she finds herself facing several serious health issues.

Julie’s search for her birth relatives spans years and involves a search agency, a PI, a confidential intermediary, a judge, an adoption agency, a social worker, and a genealogist. By journey’s end, what began as a simple desire for a family medical history has evolved into a complicated quest―one that unearths secrets, lies, and family members that are literally right next door.

Goodreads


The Goodreads description gives away the entire plot of this memoir, really… but of course, there are tons of juicy details and emotional entanglements within the pages.

When the story begins, Julie is actually resistant to the idea of trying to find her birth parents. She is largely afraid of rocking the boat with the parents who raised her. Her husband, Steve, pushes her into starting this journey, though – for her own health, and that of their four children.

She gets her twin sister to agree to split the costs with her, but Julie is going to be the person doing the work. Her dad is supportive from the beginning, but her mom is not.

While initially interested only in medical histories, Julie becomes more engrossed in the emotional aspects of her search – wondering why her birth parents gave her up, if they’ll want to meet, and whether or not she has half-siblings.

Even after trying to obtain her original birth certificate, she hits one road block after another. The first one is a big one: Her mom used an alias on her original birth certificate, and the father isn’t listed at all. Apparently this was easier to do back in the 1950s.

Working in her favor, as far as the records are concerned, is that she is a twin. There could only be so many sets of twins born on a given day at a given hospital, right?

Also working in her favor are a lot of sympathetic people within the courts, Catholic Charities, and other avenues Julie tries to reach out to for help. In addition, the family members she eventually locates often bristle at the intrusion at first – but then soften because they have adopted members of their current families, and can understand the issues from both sides.

The issues at play are, of course, the birth parents’ rights to privacy versus the adoptees’ rights to know their history.

Most of Julie’s search takes place around a decade ago. She and her sister do use a DNA-testing kit to see if that gets them any leads, but to no avail. I have to imagine that the increase in use of such sites (and kits) in recent years is now shaking up the implied privacy that birth parents assumed they had in earlier eras.

(Backlist bump on that topic: “Inheritance” by Dani Shapiro.)

Overall, this was a good read. Not too heavy, but it can tug at the heartstrings here and there. It might be even more emotional for you if you’ve gone through something similar.

This book comes out today from She Writes Press, and I was able to read an Advance Reader’s Copy through Books Forward.


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“Shatner Rules” by William Shatner with Chris Regan – Review

By: Angie Haddock


This collection of rules, illustrated with stories from Bill’s illustrious life and career, will show you how Bill became WILLIAM SHATNER, larger than life and bigger than any role he ever played. “Shatner Rules” is your guide to becoming William Shatner. Or more accurately, beautifully Shatneresque.

Goodreads


William Shatner has written several books – in both the memoir and fictional/sci-fi genres. I had found this one at a used bookstore years ago. It was written in honor of his turning 80 in 2011, and I thought the occasion of his turning 90 would be the perfect time to read it!

This one is not laid out chronologically, per se, but has some fun anecdotes. A lot of the fun comes from him name-dropping other celebrities he’s worked with on all his various projects. The overarching theme, if there is one, is that the guy – at 80, and probably to some extent now – keeps himself busy! There are few opportunities he says no to. (That is even one of the “rules!”)

As a Star Trek fan, there was one part that irked me a little. He gets into his beefs with George Takei and some of the other cast members from the Original Series, and none of that is new news at this point. He basically says that Takei – as well as Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig – were glorified extras. I think history and legions of fans might say they were a little more than that. I think it will surprise no one that Shatner has a huge ego, and holds onto his “top-billed” status even now.

On the flip side, one of his criticisms of Takei was kind of fair. He mentions that Koenig was the best man at Takei’s wedding, even though they aren’t really close, and that Takei milks his ties to the Trek world for his own publicity.

Shatner has nothing but good things to say about Sir Patrick Stewart, though, so there’s that.

Other anecdotes see him traveling, interviewing notorious criminals and celebrities alike, and recording albums with the likes of Ben Folds and Henry Rollins. He also talks a lot about his family, his horses, and his pride in being Canadian.

Overall, this book was an easy and fun read, very gossipy, and sometimes silly.


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“A Little Bit Wicked” by Kristin Chenoweth with Joni Rodgers – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


In this lively, laugh-out-loud book, Kristin shares her journey from Oklahoma beauty queen to Broadway leading lady, reflecting on how faith and family have kept her grounded in the dysfunctional rodeo of show biz.

Goodreads


I am admittedly one of those people who’s seen Wicked on tour… oh, 3 or 4 times? That’s not too bad, right?

Kristin Chenoweth writes a pretty straight-forward memoir here, which talks about her childhood, theatre and TV experiences, love life, etc. It’s roughly in chronological order, with sidesteps here and there.

I thought the story of her adoption – and a possible sighting of her birth mother later on – were riveting. She grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma with one older brother and tons of first cousins. Like many girls, she started dance lessons from a young age. She later started singing, often in church.

Chenoweth briefly competed in some local pageants as a way to win money for college. She was often one of the shortest competitors, but she knew her talent – singing – was stronger than some of her competitors’ talents. She never took first place, but earned some money to help her out in her school days.

One story I found funny was about her needing a tonsillectomy in college. She was training under a demanding vocal coach, and was worried that her soprano voice might change. In the end, it did – it got higher.

After her undergrad years in Oklahoma, Chenoweth moved north to study opera in Philadelphia. But she had other friends moving to New York, and it was so close… that she often found herself tagging along on musical theatre auditions in the big city. And, she was cast almost immediately!

(She did eventually finish her Master’s degree, to please her dad.)

Getting cast in a show is only one step, though, and the rest of Chenoweth’s story will remind readers what the “struggling actor” life is all about: crappy apartments, long hours, physical accidents and injuries, etc.

Obviously, she gets gigs that are better and better. She starts getting work on the West Coast, as well – first on TV, then in a few movies. She does a lot of charity concerts, performs on the Oscars, and dishes on her boyfriends (most notably, Aaron Sorkin). She also has a dog named after Madeline Kahn.

This memoir will mostly appeal to people who already find Chenoweth charming, or people who love hearing the backstage gossip on their favorite Broadway shows.


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“On Time – A Princely Life In Funk” by Morris Day with David Ritz – Review

BY: ANGIE HADDOCK


“Brilliant composer, smooth soul singer, killer drummer, and charismatic band leader, Morris Day, has been a force in American music for the past four decades. In On Time, the renowned funkster looks back on a life of turbulence and triumph.”

Goodreads


A few weeks ago, I tackled Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones.” So it seemed only logical to follow that with Morris Day’s memoir, which was published the same month (October 2019). If you don’t know Morris, please take a break and go watch Purple Rain. (Or even Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, for that matter!)

This is another memoir that is written in a unique style. In this one, the story is (thankfully) told in chronological order. There are three “voices” in the book, though – Morris, Prince, and MD (who is Morris’ onstage persona). Obviously, they were all written by Morris, but he uses these voices to kind of argue with himself on certain points where there are conflicts or confusion.

Morris was born in Springfield, Illinois, but moved to Minneapolis when he was still young. His parents were divorced, and he had several step-dads and half-siblings. His older sister was the rock to him, and continued to help him out of trouble well into their adulthoods.

Morris started out as a drummer. He met Prince in high school, and became the drummer for the Purple One’s band. There were several other funk outfits going at the time, and he admired certain players and singers in some of them. He was constantly in search of a good groove.

When Prince created his first signed band, The Revolution, he did not invite Morris to be the drummer. But, he did offer Morris a completely different gig, if Morris wanted to go on tour with them – videographer. Of course, Morris said yes, despite not having any experience. In the early eighties, this meant lugging around a heavy camera. He stuck with this gig for three years, just to be close to Prince’s creative genius.

Eventually his loyalty paid off, and Prince wanted to make a Morris album. Morris had never been a lead singer, but Prince convinced him he could do it. They produced the whole album themselves, and then Prince revealed that he envisioned Morris with a band, not as a solo artist. So Morris dipped into his Minneapolis funk favorites to come up with band members for The Time (even though none of them actually played on that first album).

This story sets an important precedent for many of the stories that follow, and I’ll quote Morris directly:

“Naturally, that made me crazy, but being driven crazy is the price you paid for being around Prince.”

Most people know Morris Day from his performance in the movie Purple Rain. His character has the same name, Morris Day, but was a little more bombastic than the real Morris at that time. This came out of figuring out how to make Morris the foil for Prince in the movie, and the idea that – since Prince would obviously be the sexy one – Morris could be the funny one.

This is where we see the birth of MD, the more exaggerated version of Morris. The character from the movie became his onstage persona, and often blended into his real life. Over decades, Morris fought with drugs, alcohol, and women. He did get married, and had a family. He did have some successful albums, both with the band and as a solo artist. He feels he had an ongoing struggle between MD, who wanted all the fabulousness of being a celebrity, and Morris, who wanted a family and to just play good music.

But his other lifelong struggle was with Prince. He wanted to get out of Prince’s shadow at some points, but also knew that Prince was a genius. Prince would invite him to play at some shows, then change his mind at the last minute (when the band had already traveled to the city of the show). A later incarnation of The Time actually had to record under a different name, because Prince claimed he owned the name – even though they were still touring as The Time at the time.

Morris eventually gets clean. He also gets divorced, and remarried. He sees Prince one last time – for the first time in a decade – a few months before his death. He still considers him a brother, albeit a hard one to deal with sometimes.

This is a fun and easy read, especially if you like music. The hardcover edition comes in at just over 200 pages, and the conversational tone is easy to digest.


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“The Beautiful Ones” by Prince with Dan Piepenbring – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


From Prince himself comes the brilliant coming-of-age-and-into-superstardom story of one of the greatest artists of all time—featuring never-before-seen photos, original scrapbooks and lyric sheets, and the exquisite memoir he began writing before his tragic death.

Goodreads


To say that this book was a multi-sensory experience may seem odd, or even cheesy – but I knew I was in for a new experience just from picking it up. The pages are ultra-thick, the page numbers aren’t in the usual place, the typeset was large and unique. From the moment you feel this book, you know you’re in for an adventure.

This one is not a straight-forward memoir. The beginning is the 50-page odyssey of the book’s invention, explaining that Prince had the idea to write a memoir (or several), but died before it came to fruition. He had already picked a co-author (Dan), and signed the book deal. So, upon his death, the people involved in the deal were among those allowed to look through his extensive trove of notes and pictures and other momentos left behind at Paisley Park.

They decided to use some of the stuff they found that interested them in the following way: After the intro, there is what Prince had written so far of his proposed memoir. This is mostly about his parents, growing up in Minneapolis, and other things about his early years. They include scans of the actual, handwritten pages – but fear not, it’s typed out afterward, for easier reading. But, they did type it as close as they could to the way Prince wrote, including using an emoji (for lack of a better description) of an eye for the word “I.”

After that is a photo album, with annotations, from his earliest years getting a recording contract. He and some bandmates went out to California to record, and he took pictures of random things like their hotel room. It’s cute to think of this huge personality as having once been a young kid viewing a new place for the first time, in awe of its different terrain and style.

There are mountains of other pictures and notes, often paired with quotes from interviews, that show the artist coming into his own and doing things his way. Then we have another handwritten tome, a synopsis of what he first envisioned the movie Purple Rain to be about. Following that are a few more pictures, notes, and fun finds.

I want to leave you with some fun/funky quotes from the mind of Prince himself:

“…the bass & drums on this record would make Stephen Hawking dance. No disrespect – it’s just that funky.”

“Try to create. I want to tell people to create. Just start by creating your day. Then create your life.”

“If there’s something out there that U want – Go 4 it! Nothing comes to sleepers but dreams.”

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