Baca, Jimmy Santiago. A Glass of Water. New York: Grove Press, 2009. Print. 215 pp.
Reviewed by Sasha DePew.
From an author who has published works that have become not only popular reading but have led to a screenplay, you would not expect much less than excellence. Jimmy Santiago’s narrative A Glass of Water is moving and visual, full of heartfelt emotion and longing; it is a story that will stick with you.
The way that Baca makes his sentences flow almost makes this narrative sound like a poem. The lyrical prose and dreamlike imagery all make for a beautiful and honest work. The introduction to the book provides a glimpse of why he is such a great storyteller. Baca is telling of a woman’s death, and it is from her perspective that readers visualize what is going on during her funeral. The imagery that this narrator relays to the reader in this short six-page introduction is absolutely phenomenal, portraying the mourners’ sorrow and sadness, as well as the sights, smells, and sounds; it is almost as if she is not dead but rather in another state of being. Because Baca emphasizes the difference in the funeral attendees’ reactions, he seems to be preparing the reader for a different way of life as well as a different way of seeing the world, speaking, and believing all together.
The book is about the husband of this woman. He goes to America to try and make a better life for himself and his sons. One sentence is quite meaningful to this story: “Sometimes a man is so poor, all the pride he has is in the last cigarette he is smoking” (8). The quote suggests how hard life must be when a human being, by nature proud to begin with, places all his pride in one small item, particularly an item that causes addiction and death. The man, Casimiro, moves to a new country because he has absolutely nothing left in his country, and he needs to find his pride and stability again. However, he finds that living in America is harder than he has ever imagined, due to prejudices and the lower grade jobs available to most immigrants looking for the “American Dream.” In his search for money and a life, the man also very nearly loses his sons.
Readers who are interested in foreign life and immigration to America, who want to know about stereotyping of foreigners that come to America searching for a new life, and who desire to learn about the hardship of attempting to achieve the American Dream should not miss A Glass of Water in their personal library. But if it is not what you are looking for in a book, read this one for its honesty, cultural pride, vivid imagery, and emotional gripping quality as it takes you into the life of a man who has nearly lost everything that is important to him, a man nearly forsaken by the religion he holds dear because of mistakes he had made. This is the story of a man who works hard to try and be better and who faces many obstacles in an attempt to regain pride and love for himself.