Book Review of Judith Oritz Cofer's The Cruel Country

Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Five Star Review by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto:

The Cruel Country is a beautifully written memoir about the illness and death of the author's mother. Author, Judith Ortiz Cofer writes even the most painful scenes with such eloquence you can't help but be drawn in. I am all too familiar with the loss of a parent, and I can say that Cofer does a fabulous job working through the many stages of grief as she helps the reader understand. What makes The Cruel Country unique is not only Cofer's perspective but in the way she ties in psychology, history, and poetry as well. I learned quite a bit while reading this well written memoir. Thank you to Cofer for braving her way into the land of bereavement and allowing readers to join her in such a personal journey. The Cruel Country is well written, well edited, and is a book I can definitely give five stars!

I’ve learned a lot about Puerto Rico, the culture, and the language. Cofer is a brilliant writer and teacher. I was somewhat fearful about becoming too submerged in Cofer’s grief. I didn’t want to finish reading Cruel Country and feel overwhelmingly sad. Thanks to Cofer’s compelling writing, I closed the book feeling an overwhelming amount of gratitude. Cofer’s bravery in sharing her journey can help those with similar experiences feel less isolated and lonely. Instead of feeling sad, I felt kindred and peaceful as I closed the cover on this lovely memoir.

Book Summary:

“I am learning the alchemy of grief—how it must be carefully measured and doled out, inflicted—but I have not yet mastered this art,” writes Judith Ortiz Cofer in The Cruel Country. This richly textured, deeply moving, lyrical memoir centers on Cofer’s return to her native Puerto Rico after her mother has been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer.

Cofer’s work has always drawn strength from her life’s contradictions and dualities, such as the necessities and demands of both English and Spanish, her travels between and within various mainland and island subcultures, and the challenges of being a Latina living in the U.S. South. Interlaced with these far-from-common tensions are dualities we all share: our lives as both sacred and profane, our negotiation of both child and adult roles, our desires to be the person who belongs and also the person who is different.

What we discover in The Cruel Country is how much Cofer has heretofore held back in her vivid and compelling writing. This journey to her mother’s deathbed has released her to tell the truth within the truth. She arrives at her mother’s bedside as a daughter overcome by grief, but she navigates this cruel country as a writer—an acute observer of detail, a relentless and insistent questioner.

Author Biography:

Judith Ortiz Cofer was born in Hormigueros, a small town in Puerto Rico. When she was a young child her father’s military career took the family to Paterson, New Jersey, but she often spent her childhood traveling back and forth between Puerto Rico and the U.S. At 15, her family moved again, this time to Augusta, Georgia, where she eventually earned a BA in English from Augusta College. She later earned an MA in English from Florida Atlantic University and did graduate work at Oxford University.

Although Ortiz Cofer is best known for her works of creative nonfiction, she began her writing career with poetry, which she feels “contains the essence of language.” Her early chapbook Peregrina (1986) won the Riverstone International Chapbook Competition, and she has published various other collections of poetry since, including Terms of Survival (1987), Reaching for the Mainland (1995), and A Love Story Beginning in Spanish (2005).

Ortiz Cofer’s work explores the rifts and gaps that arise between her split cultural heritages. Her early immersion in both Puerto Rican and American culture has shaped her multi-genre approach, which includes works of fiction, prose, poetry, and sometimes a combination of the three. Her work The Latin Deli, which was nominated for a Pulitzer-Prize, explores various genres, combining poetry, short fiction, and personal narrative. She is also an author of children’s books.

In 2010, Ortiz Cofer was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. Her awards include grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation and the Georgia Council for the Arts, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for poetry, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Florida Fine Arts Council.

Ortiz Cofer teaches at the University of Georgia as the Regents' and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing.

Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 8, Andre 6, Breccan 19 months, and Delphine 7 weeks), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books and all sorts of other stuff at:


Angela Mackintosh said...

Lovely review, Crystal. It sounds like a book I can really relate to. I'm glad it didn't leave you overwhelmingly sad! I just took a look inside the book and her prose is gorgeous, and I'd be interested in learning more about Puerto Rican culture.

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