(Our) Carlos Eire quoted by Joze Azel in Miami Herald to make a brilliant point

And he’s bad, bad, Carlos Eire…
baddest man in the whole damn town..
badder than ‘ole King Kong…

So what accounts for this Latin American eccentricity of constitutional plasticity?

A passage in Professor Carlos Eire’s book, Learning to Die in Miami, where he explores his assimilation to American life may give us a starting cultural clue.

As he learns the language, young Carlos notes that his thinking is different in English, and that his new way of thinking alters his perception of the world. He is affected by the way in which his new language gives so much more choice and responsibility to the self than his native Spanish. In Eire’s example, if on the way to class one of your books falls to the ground, you would say in Spanish: “ Se me cayó el libro.” This construction is hard to translate since reflexive verb forms are rare in English. It would be something like: “The book dropped itself from me.”

In essence, the Spanish construction implies a shifting of responsibility and the conception of a victimized self. In contrast, the English composition would be one where responsibility is fully acknowledged as we would simply say: “I dropped my book.” We would say “the book fell” only if we had not been responsible for holding it.

With humor and wit Eire brings home the point: “Oh damn, the book had the nerve to fall from me. Damn book. Damn gravity. Poor me. If only the laws of gravity were different, I would not be having this problem.” What an insightful cultural contrast! In English it is our own fault that we dropped the book. In Spanish, the book dropped itself from our hands.



6 thoughts on “(Our) Carlos Eire quoted by Joze Azel in Miami Herald to make a brilliant point

  1. I love that book.

    Where “Waiting for Snow in Havana” was a flight of fancy and romance, “Learning to Die in Miami” was an odyssey.

    We all (those of us who migrated as children) killed that child who was supposed go grow up in an environment where we were the victims of that book, to one where we assume the responsibility for the book’s fall.

  2. Whereas I love Carlos Eire, a very good friend of mine (although of course he doesn’t know it as we have never met)I’ve yet to read “Learning to die in Miami”. Perhaps the title has been a bit scary for me, being a senior citizen transplanted from New York to Miami.

    The product of two languages, that paragraph has really intrigued me, it is indeed brilliant. Enough said, I’m off to Amazon to find the book! Thank you for the review

  3. The two memoirs I have described this way:
    “They are both exactly alike and completely different. Professor Eire likes paradoxes.”

    The second book is spectacular. It becomes better with each successive reading. I said it oughta’ win a Pulitzer. Too bad it didn’t.

  4. Hey, I’m picking this up at 1:41 am…. Long day, longer night….too much work on the thinking farm, too few brains to do the real thinking. Never been called brilliant and “bad” at the same time. I could get used to this. The AARP showed great interest in “Learning to Die in Miami” at first, but then cooled off when they found out it wasn’t about retired folks moving to Florida. The title is perfect, but it has hurt sales. The book was remaindered and has sunk into oblivion, even though it is better than “Waiting for Snow” (in the author’s opinion).

  5. The chapter in Learning to Die in Miami on tongue is one of the most brilliant pieces of writing anywhere. A meditation on meat on a platter becomes so many other things. I had to leaf through the book to locate it so I could tell you that it is chapter five. This makes me see that it is time to for me to reread the book soon. I defy anyone to read this chapter and not laugh out loud and then be in wonder at how Eire achieved so much in a few pages. Such spectacular writing fills every chapter!

    This is a great book filled with religion, dislocations of many kinds, fear, sadness, longings, metaphors in abundance and all the while hilarious. Easy to read and hard to get out of your mind.

    It works as a simple story that will resonate with exiles of all kinds and as a timeless piece of great literature.

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