Book Review: The Night of the Virgin by Elliott Turner
30th January, 2017
When Emmanuel Hernandez (Manny) turned eighteen, he left with one dream in mind, to become a professional soccer player. His dreams are shattered when he realizes he is not a documented American. With love for the sport in mind, Manny tries to overcome the hurdles in his way. The novel traces his life as a young man to a loving father and shifts back and forth in what made him the man that he is today.
The novel is divided into four parts. The first and second contain short chapters that outline the plot. The third deals with a conversation between Manny and his friend, Hector, that forms the crux of the novel and the fourth is made of diary entries. The narrative is not a smooth linear one. The book jumps back and forth in chronological order and sometimes there are vignettes of memory (or diary entries). There were portions where I got a bit confused. I do not mind such a style of story telling and I applaud Turner for having the courage to try out such a style of narration for his debut. I loved the hints of sarcasm at various institutions in society such as the difference in approach by the Catholic and Protestant churches to a new comer.
Relationships hold an important place in this book. Manny is an honest narrator and tells the readers his wrongs and rights. He talks about his girls, his Church, his dreams and his adventures. There is a lot of reminiscing about relationships that have fallen apart. This adds a sad tinge to the narration. When Manny says he almost forgot his elder sister, we are struck with the harsh reality of how time fades our memories. Manny tells the story of his father and mother which gives us more insight into his relationship with them. The most important relationship is that between Manny and Hector. Manny documents how his solid friendship with Hector changes over the years and what comes between them
Turner creates a wonderful atmosphere of home and friendship is his debut. He has taken pains to sprinkle the story with details of food that define the community differently at different points of the book. Through what the characters are eating (local cuisine or non-Mexican food) Turner tries to divert our attention to their mental state. I found this exceedingly clever.
Something that I disliked in the novel was the generous use of untranslated Spanish in almost every other page in the novel. I think the context comes out clearly to someone who has a basic knowledge of the language, but someone like me who has zero exposure did not feel right at home with the Spanish words. I wish the meaning was given in the next sentence, if not a direct translation (like the kind done in The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang) so that the essence of the Spanish phrases comes out in English atleast partially if not fully. I particularly felt this shortcoming in a scene where Manny’s son talks to him about the Spanish phrases he uses while driving. The context was clear and I knew it was a light moment, but the humour was lost on me because of the language barrier.
Also, some problems that contributed to the plot in a big way were put away with too easily. One being Manny’s undocumented status which gets resolved in few sentences even though it is a huge matter of concern in the first half of the novel. Another is the second chance that Manny gets at soccer. It seemed a bit abrupt.
Final Verdict :
The Night of the Virgin is the story of dreams, soccer and friendship. If you would like to explore socio cultural norms in a Mexican American community against the backdrop of soccer, seek no more – here is what you are looking for.
Title : The Night of the Virgin
Author : Elliott Turner
Expected Publication : June, 2017
Language : English
Rating : 3/5
Much thanks to the author for an ARC of the book. All opinions are my own. The Night of the Virgin is expected to be published in June, 2017.
What did you imagine the story of the book to be from the title? Were you pleasantly surprised? PS: The title hints at an important turning point in the novel.