three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
By: 
Monica Ali
user_rating: 
0

A-Alentejo BlueIn Mamarrosa, a village in the Alentejo region of Portugal, different men’s and women’s lives drift in and out of nine semiconnected tales. An octogenarian discovers his ex-Communist friend and lover’s suicide; meanwhile, the new Internet café tries for a working connection. A British writer works on a literary biography, as the local tavern owner recalls the death of his American wife. Many, including a beautiful teenage girl and a strange English family, seek refuge in Mamarrosa. For others, the village represents opportunity and change—or dreams and personal connections squandered and lost.
Scribner. 226 pages. $24. ISBN: 0743293037

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Mamarossa is like that undiscovered town not in any guidebook, a type of place that’s so far removed from touristy conformity that it feels real, like stepping back in time or walking into a painting. Ali lovingly describes the region’s charms, from its tiny whitewashed homes to the women picking oranges in the eucalyptus-scented air." Nicole Chvatal

Baltimore Sun 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This is Ali’s more ambitious and accomplished novel, depicting not one but many varieties of expatriate experience in Alentejo, as well as the foreigners’ impact on the indigenous population. … But Ali’s reversion to third-person omniscient narration in the last story is the real innovation and surprise—one that, alas, doesn’t have whatever effect was intended." Laura Demanski

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"The Potts family, a British couple and their two children who live in drug-addled squalor outside the town, seems worthy of a novel all its own, and Chrissie, the ostensible matron, has a fabulous voice. … What Ali doesn’t quite manage in Alentejo Blue is any kind of convincing connection between each of the book’s nine chapters." Brad Zellar

Philadelphia Inquirer 3 of 5 Stars
"Nothing much happens, except for the schemes of the young to escape its nothingness, and the bargains made by the old, who no longer desire escape. That nothingness provides the central tension of the book." Gaiutra Bahadur

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Ali seems intent on showing that geography can be illusory: her characters live and breathe not so much in the Alentejo that surrounds them as in the cul-de-sacs and alleys of their own thoughts. … To let them loose into the dusty streets of Mamarrosa to act and interact, rather than silently stew, would be a liberation for them—and perhaps for their author." Liesl Schillinger

Rocky Mountain News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Ali is under no obligation to continue producing fiction to supplement our understanding of current events, but this novel takes her about as far from the pulse as she could go. … Some beautiful and sensitive writing lurks in the pages of this novel, but overall, something is missing." Jessica Slater

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"This spare, unrelentingly depressing story about several lost generations might have delighted Gertrude Stein and made Hemingway green with envy, but whether readers will want to subject themselves to it now seems doubtful. … Again and again, Alentejo Blue laments the failure of these people to connect with anyone, but ultimately the stories offer us little more than a series of heavy sighs." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

Monica Ali’s Brick Lane ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2003), about Muslim immigrants in London’s East End, met with critical acclaim and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. Her sophomore effort strays from the style and themes of Brick Lane but not necessarily for the better. About consciousness, worldview, culture, belonging, and identity, Alentejo Blue offers a few shining portraits of lost souls: Eileen, a tourist trapped in a dead marriage, and Teresa, a young woman hoping to work as an au pair in London, among others. Ali’s eye for detail and sensitive writing drew praise. However, this "novel in short stories" failed to connect with many critics, who found the collection—and the characters—depressing and all too random.

Cited by Critics

Winesburg, Ohio | Sherwood Anderson (1919): In this collection of related short stories, residents of a small Ohio town keep secrets, fall in love, have epiphanies, and hide their greatest hopes and fears.