One Childhood, American Chica: Two Worlds

Written by: Marie Arana

One Childhood, American Chica: Two Worlds Book Cover
In her father’s Peruvian family, Marie Arana was taught to be a proper lady, yet in her mother’s American family she learned to shoot a gun, break a horse, and snap a chicken’s neck for dinner. Arana shuttled easily between these deeply separate cultures for years. But only when she immigrated with her family to the United States did she come to understand that she was a hybrid American whose cultural identity was split in half. Coming to terms with this split is at the heart of this graceful, beautifully realized portrait of a child who “was a north-south collision, a New World fusion. An American Chica.”

Here are two vastly different landscapes: Peru—earthquake-prone, charged with ghosts of history and mythology—and the sprawling prairie lands of Wyoming. In these rich terrains resides a colorful cast of family members who bring Arana’s historia to life...her proud grandfather who one day simply stopped coming down the stairs; her dazzling grandmother, “clicking through the house as if she were making her way onstage.” But most important are Arana’s parents: he a brilliant engineer, she a gifted musician. For more than half a century these two passionate, strong-willed people struggled to overcome the bicultural tensions in their marriage and, finally, to prevail.
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One Childhood American Chica Two Worlds Reviews

It's autobiography, so in a sense you're stuck -- her life was what it was. I would have liked a slightly different emphasis. Most of her attention was given to her time in Peru, in Cartavo and Lima, and then an extended visit to her mother's family in Wyoming. The time after she returned to USA just was given a few pages at the end -- sort of a "oh, I became an American girl, but kept some of the Peruvian stuff too". I was left thinking that somehow it was a little more complicated than that. A It's autobiography, so in a sense you're stuck -- her life was what it was. I would have liked a slightly different emphasis. Most of her attention was given to her time in Peru, in Cartavo and Lima, and then an extended visit to her mother's family in Wyoming. The time after she returned to USA just was given a few pages at the end -- sort of a "oh, I became an American girl, but kept some of the Peruvian stuff too". I was left thinking that somehow it was a little more complicated than that. Also, there were a great many threads opened up introducing different characters, and there was very little closure of those. Some of them got a sentence or two at the end, but many did not even get that much. Still, these are minor criticisms of an otherwise interesting childhood autobiography.

Oh, I'm an American married to a Peruvian, and our daughter experiences some of the "two worlds, one childhood" in her own way as well. That's why I picked this up, after reading a review of Marie Arana's biography of Bolivar and finding this more interesting.
David Buhler
One of the best memoirs I've had the pleasure to read. Marie Arana, the daughter of Peruvian father and an American gringa (whom he fell in love with while studying engineering at MIT) was born in Peru; and while still a child moved to New Jersey with her mother and father. I cannot begin to do justice to the magical idiomatic quality of her writing. Read the book. Two cultures find a way to co-exist
David Lucander
Not the book I was hoping for when I read this - expecting a "airplane book" I could assign 100-level students. Still, a very well-written (but someone drawn-out) memoir about living in Peru, Wyoming, and...New Jersey. The pre-history of Arana's might be drawn-out for some readers, but her reminisces are revealing. More stories of her siblings would be interesting. Not going to make my students read this, but I'm glad that I did - good summer reading for professor types.
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Such a gorgeous book-- I found myself constantly underlining beautifully worded passages. Arana's writing style is definitely poetic. I appreciated the time she took to explain the concept of Pachamama to the reader and unreservedness with which she writes about her own spirituality. Found myself in tears at the end. An excellent memoir--perhaps embellished in some small points-- but undoubtedly a pleasurable read.
An interesting look at one woman's life as half Peruvian and half American in the middle of the racially-charged 1950s. Some parts drag a little, but she makes some really interesting observations about what it's like to see one's self as a product of two different cultures, and how one chooses one over another depending upon the current situation.
Patricia Murphy
I enjoyed this descriptive and lyrical account of a girlhood spread over two very different continents. At times the writing reminded me of Waiting for Snow in Havana, mostly in a good way, but in one bad way--I don't care for the use of the conditional. I would rather have one scene fully realized than many scenes conflated into one.
This is an incredible book that I really related to because I'm from the U.S. and my husband is from Ecuador. It helped me begin to think about the possible struggles my children will face by being from two different cultures. I also loved reading about Arana's time in Peru because I have travelled a lot in Peru and lived in Ecuador for several years.
Susan Grodsky
Quit after reading about 20 percent. I was expecting something about the cross cultural experience. What I read was about her life growing up in a wealthy Peruvian family.

It could have been charming. Other reviewers found it fascinating. I didn't. Marie Araña seems like a nice enough person but her stories did not grab me.
Being that I am a first generation american myself, (my Mother came here at 8 yrs old from Medilion Columbia) I have been there with the feelings of "Who Am I", "How Should I live my life? Traditional or American?, Spanish at home English 99.9% of places I go... I have always felt like 2 very Differnt people and I was very happy to find such a warm, telling book about "my feelings"
Eh...I don't know if her life was really interesting enough to warrant writing a book about it. When I read a memoir, I like it to draw me in, make me feel like I know the author and feel some of the joy of their life. I didn't feel that. I was bored a lot, and I thought it was pretty depressing.
It was a wonderful walk down the path of a girl born of two cultures- American and Peruvian. Arana uses such powerful imagery and beautiful language to describe what life was like for her as a girl torn between two different worlds.
Grace Lozada
Love American Chica. I was born in Lima, but moved to the United States when I was 3. I never really got to know or understand my homeland. Reading this I better understood and could visualize my mother and father's experiences of having grown up there. Amazing description!
I highly recommend!

An interesting memoir, but an event better primer to the history of Peru. The author does a very good job at using the metaphor of a bridge to represent how she feels about being "of" two countries. I especially enjoyed her descriptions of the indigenous Peruvian spiritual believes.
Susan Hester
She was indeed caught between two worlds--with a Peruvian Father and an American Mother--she and her brother and sister grew up in both countries and struggled with their identities. Informative about Peruvian history and culture.
I read this book a long time ago. I think I liked it so much because I could identify with the main character and what it feels like to have one parent from Peru, and one from America. The author includes accurate and very interesting information on Peruvian culture and history.
As an American trying to live as a Mexican housewife, I completely identified with Arana's mom. The complexities of a culturally mixed home are at times hilarious and at other times...well, frustrating. Arana writes a good, interesting, true, and fun narative.
It took a while for me to get into this book, but I ended up enjoying. I appreciated the perspective of the professional Peruvian (her father)working for a large U.S. company and what that meant for his family. My favorite part covered the author's education in Peru.
Memoir of a girl born in the early 50's, to an American mother and Peruvian father. Wonderful tales of her childhood in Peru, her move to New Jersey, belonging to two very different worlds. Well written and thoughtful.

Her grandparents lived in Rawlins, WY!
Loved this book. Beautifully written, insightful description about the differences between Peruvian and American cultures, funny and heartbreaking. Made for great background reading during a trip to Peru.
Pretty interesting read. She's a very interesting lady, too. I had lunch with her and her husband when she came to speak at my university. Her reflection on living between two cultures is interesting, and I really enjoyed reading about Peru and Peruvian culture.
Found this book very difficult to put down. An interesting story made brilliant by Arana's beautiful and captivating prose.
This book started out interesting. I like the way she portrayed her feelings of growing up in two cultures. However, it got slow in the middle and I never picked it back up to finish.
Farhana Faruq
Interesting, well written.. and a story I can relate to :D
Arana's memoir is a theme-based book. That's what I loved about it. It was mostly chronological and each chapter focused on a theme in her life. For that reason, I loved it.
I really wanted to like this book, but couldn't get interested in it once I started reading it.
Very thoughtful and beautifully written memoir that explores biculturalism.
Is a must read book for those who love descriptive and sensitive books. I met the author and she is adorable, very simple. The book is like Marie, the author.
On a personal level, I connected with her and the dynamics of culture. Wonderful read.
A fun read. I like books about places I have visited, too. Very introspective and personal memoir.
Easy to read, clearly portrays what it's like to be halfhalf and how racism works against you in two ways and the difference between two cultures.
This should have been a good story, but it was boring and uneventful.
personal account/childhood memories of a woman who grew up between the latin america and usa.
A really wonderful look at two very different cultures and their impact on the author as a child growing up on two continents . Also, a great history of Peru.
I don't come across very many Peruvian writers, this was worth reading. I enjoyed it very much.
Nice little memoir about straddling two worlds as a child: Peru and USA.
A touching look at living between two cultures.
Interesting story, a little too grandiose writing style.
Jo-Lane Birkigt
Interesting, learned quite a bit about Peru.
Evelyn Mizell
While I enjoy reads about cross cultural childhoods, there are better books out there. This one was a bit bland and ordinary.
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