What do I know about the country?
Next to nothing!
Which is why I lapped up onto the suggestion when a colleague mentioned about how she has books by a Honduran author.
The Big Banana by Roberto Quesado has a protagonist named Eduardo Lin, who comes to New York City to become an actor along with a parallel story of Mirian, in Honduras, who has a Cold War spy obsession which culminates in her obsession with the character of James Bond.
While in New York, Eduardo lives in a rented house along with other immigrants who each have their own stories and reasons for being there. Back in Honduras, Mirian’s obsession goes out of control and she regularly visits a psychiatrist, who takes Eduardo’s helps to fix this obsession when he had been in Honduras. With this, Mirian and Eduardo, becomes long distant lovers.
And that brings me to the opening scene of The Big Banana where Eduardo is busy cursing the New York Telephone that regularly sends him huge bills to pay.
Throughout Eduardo’s stay in New York, the reader sees the unique characters he comes in touch with such as his boss at the construction site, Charlie, who hates to be wrong even about languages he does not know; or Casagrande, the gregarious, gay Chilean who is the main organiser of all things social; or Jose, who measures everything through the Ecuadorean currency, sucres, to justify his stinginess.
In their social gatherings, we see interesting and contradictory conversations about the state of their respective countries or about their prospects in the country; apart from them being lost in the haze of coke!
An interesting aspect that was part of the narrative was Lin’s defense mechanism. In order to avoid dealing with the problems he faces such as depression or other existential questions such as “is he really becoming merely a workman?,” Lin either travels in the past or to the future in his mind. If he goes into the future, he creates elaborates fantasies of how be has becomes famous or how he meets someone famous who will give him his much needed break to stardom. While in the past, he recreates his memories and feelings.
The title is another fun aspect! All hail the title fetish! Casagrande’s merriment and usual jokes about Lin’s country led to Lin being christened as bananero and how due to many Hondurans, NYC from being The Big Apple will become The Big Banana!
That pun that Casagrande always throws around is a great way to subvert the way that politicians often use to rile up hatred against people.
So will Lin make it big in The Big Banana?
In a way he does, but not in the usual way that we all think he would have. And that is the best aspect of the novel: the way it ends. One would not expect that a novel about becoming an actor would take a philosophical turn. But the ending resonates with following through with chasing your dreams and that being successful is subjective.
So despite, the middle of the novel being a bit of the usual stuff about the problems about immigration and how Lin and his companions deal with everything through parties and drugs, the later and the beginning parts are purely artistic where we see the thoughts and motives that shape the characters.
This post is part of the Pardesi series that highlights immigrant experiences.
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