Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"Queen of Corona" by Esterhazy

Queen of Corona
by Esterhazy

Queen of Corona by Esterhazy

Queen of Corona by Esterhazy is currently on tour with Xpresso Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Roza Esterhazy is a mixed-up kid. Eighteen years old and on the threshold of adulthood, she feels powerless in the face of a world that hasn’t adequately prepared her for adult life. She is riddled with anxiety about the world’s problems, the problems of her classmates at an inner-city high school in Corona, Queens. As an American of multicultural heritage (Polish-Jewish on her mother’s side, Venezuelan on her father’s) she struggles to find her place in society where the odds are stacked against people like her.
At the outset, she is on an airplane heading to Warsaw – the city of her ancestors, a city she’d never been to before. The city her mother had fled from in the 1980s because of an article she’d written that had offended the authorities. Roza’s voyage is a kind of reverse immigration – she’s escaping from America back to Poland because of a student protest that ended in tragedy. She alludes to the protest and its bloody end throughout the novel, with flashbacks tormenting her traumatized mind to the very end. When she arrives in Warsaw, she struggles to come to terms with what happened and what part she played in the tragedy. She grapples with the concept of guilt and blame – were the students to blame for what happened or was it the fault of overzealous police? She weighs how fear quells courage in an oppressive society. She confronts the grey reality of post-war Warsaw and realizes that there’s very little of it that she can identify with. She retraces history’s steps through the Polish capital and the former ghetto of WW2.
Her longing for home is visceral, reflected in the flashbacks of school and relationships that are woven through her daily existence. Flashbacks that reflect the absurdity of the inner-city high school experience, where kids are meant to learn an inimical thread of history that has little to do with their own reality, that places many of them in the position of the conquered and exploited.
Queen of Corona is a look into the inner life of the inner city. A foray into the mind and heart of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, torn from her destiny because she dared to stand up and speak up for those who don't have a voice. A glimpse inside the hopeless hallways of New York City's failing public schools. It is a coming-of-age novel in a tumultuous time. It is a lesson on how fear is the most dangerous aspect of our Trumped-up existence.

There comes a day when you go looking for your roots and you realize they’re all gone.
You grope about in the dark and find nothing. Nothing but bits and pieces of a legacy gone astray like a dog that was never loved in the first place. No matter where you come from, the day you become an American is the day you lost it all. No matter if you were born here or made it over by plane, train, bus or banana boat. Just like that, thousands of years of memory vaporize like the plane that hit the Pentagon. You forfeit miles of spindly roots planted into the earth by your ancestors from way back when. Slowly, painfully, you squander your family recipes and all them heirlooms, memories, traditions go slipping through your fingers. You figure you’re living the dream, but something’s off. Something’s missing.
Something you didn’t even know you needed. You lose track. You lose your ground. The connection with the earth that made you. That dust that hardened into your bones and softened into your skin. You think you can go on making the tamales, the pierogis, the same old samosas your grannies made for generations but they’re not the same at all. The flour here is different. The water is different. The proportions are all out of wack. And you know it’s just a dumpling and dumplings don’t always come out right, but for some reason you’re bawling your eyes out. Because you know it’s not just a fluke. It doesn’t come out right no matter how many times you try. Because it just ain’t in you no more.
A sourness that tastes like shame comes up in your throat. Shame that flips on itself, turning on the past, turning on your parents because they’re the ones who made you and brought you here. Your loving parents are now the bullseye for your shame. Their accents and their crazy foods. It was their brilliant idea to ship you all the way across the ocean before you had anything to say about it. So now you do all you can to keep them at home, hidden behind closed doors. You never invite anyone over. You do what you can to become like everyone else. You want to look like the girls in the videos. The selfie-stick chicks on the gram. Then you start dressing like the guys in the videos so the dudes round the way no longer feel obliged to tell you that your ass is too big or your ass is too flat. You convince yourself that you’ve been here all along.
That there is no motherland. No Poland, Ukraine, Honduras, Philippines, Bangladesh. The past fades like the last wisp of smoke after a dumpster fire. But the stench of it lingers, you know. There’s nothing you can do to make it disappear for good. It’s a blemish that won’t go away. An ugly little blackhead of guilt. Because you denied your ancestors, denied your heritage. When you denied them, you denied yourself. You denied your very existence.
This is the tragedy of assimilation. The old folks give up trying to talk sense into you. They throw their hands up and let you be what you always thought you wanted to be. An apple-pie-eating, base-ball-bat swinging shiksa like all those other girls in the hood. You try telling them that shit ain’t really you at all. So they ask you, who is you then? And you try to tell them but it’s like snakes crawling up your throat. You can’t spit out a syllable. So, you figure maybe they’re right. You start grasping at straws, the frayed threads of history, shreds of a native realm.
There comes a day when you finally realize you have no idea who you is or even who you are, and where you came from. So maybe you get on a plane and try to take a good hard look at things from a distance. Try to take in the bigger picture and all. Back to the future. Though the truth is I’m not really doing it for the right reasons. My story ain’t all high and mighty like that. There’s more dirt I’ll have to dig up at some point, for sure. I’ll get to it when the time is right. No point in rushing things. We have all the time in the world.
[Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
“I highly recommend this novel to anyone that like biography like novels that have anger, disappointment, romance illusions and every other even that teens face as growing up” ~ Steph Destiny
“I loved Roza as much as I wanted to scream at her. […] kudos to Esterhazy for writing such a believable and antagonizing protagonist. […] The ending made me so angry, I actually screamed at my Ol' Man when I was done. I can't say much without spoiling it, but I wanted to cry. It's possible that what upset me the most was how realistic it was. It hits ya right in the feels because you know it's real.” ~ Ms. J
“… it brings up a lot of critical issues that need to be discussed, that people need to stop sweeping under the rug, issues that privileged need to stop blaming the others for. It's not an easy read, but maybe that's what makes it so important. It doesn't glorify the ugly, it leaves it all there for you to see.” ~ Maxine

My Review
I received this book in return for an honest review.

By Lynda Dickson
At the beginning of the book, Roza is on a plane to Warsaw to escape the fallout from an incident at her high school graduation ceremony, which spirals out of control. We are left to piece her story together through her stream of consciousness ramblings, often lacking in punctuation. Her current situation is interspersed with reminiscences of her life in Corona, Queens, where she makes some wrong choices and ends up in an impossible situation. In Poland, Roza struggles to make sense of life and loses herself along the way. However, after receiving news from home she determines to turn her life around.
The author channels her teenage narrator perfectly, giving her an authentic voice and personality. However, some of the other characters come across as more intellectual than you would expect from their circumstances. Through Roza, the author provides keen observations on several topics, including friendship, family, religion, society, race, prejudice, discrimination, politics, history, education, poverty, single parenthood, abortion, love, war, and slut shaming. The narrative is given even more authenticity by including references to real-life victims of the system.
Be warned, this is not an easy read and includes some confronting issues.
Warnings: coarse language, drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, sexual references, sex scenes.

About the Author
Esterhazy is a journalist, writer, and translator. A native New Yorker, she holds degrees in Comparative Literature from New York University and American Studies from the University of Warsaw. Queen of Corona is her debut novel.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a print copy of Queen of Corona by Esterhazy (US/Canada only).