The following is a review written by Mark Rogers (an award winning travel writer) from Caribbean Connection’s April 2011 issue.
Thank you Mr. Rogers, for your honesty and clear voice. I enjoyed reading your thoughts immensely. I am so glad that you enjoyed my novel.
House of Six Doors
A novel by Patricia Selbert, Published by Publishing by the Seas
Reviewed by Mark Rogers
House of Six Doors is a novel about many forms of traveling. The heroine, 13-year old Serena, has been dragged by her mother from her home in Curaçao to a new life in the U.S. Throughout the book, Serena treads a path through often-baffling 70s era Hollywood, while at the same time traveling back in memory to her beloved island of Curaçao.
The family – which includes Serena’s older sister, Hendrika – is broke when they arrive in Hollywood after driving cross-country from Miami in a 1963 Ford Galaxie. Facing one hurdle after another, they face a period of homelessness as they try to get a toe hold in their new world.
The author, Patricia Selbert, successfully walks a narrative and stylistic tightrope. The book is told in Serena’s voice, the unscarred voice of a young teenager who has constructed a naïve vision of the U.S. from watching The Brady Bunch and reading Tiger Beat. Selbert maintains Serena’s innocent voice in the book, even while Serena goes through such experiences as fending off a pimp, witnessing her sister’s arranged marriage, and losing her virginity. Handled differently, these scenes could have come off as sordid; but seen through Serena’s eyes they’re part of the parade of life, the good and the bad. The book balances between a present tense narrative of Serena’s experiences in Hollywood, and her musings on life back in Curaçao. It’s to Selbert’s credit that the Hollywood sections are compelling to the extent that the more bucolic memories of island life sometimes feel like an intrusion on the headlong pace of the book.
Serena’s Mama is an intriguing character – a strong woman in an era when women were beginning to demand equality and respect. For all her virtues, Mama is also stubborn, domineering and manipulative. Hendrika’s spirit is less resilient than Serena’s, and Hendrika suffers more deeply from Mama’s harsh judgments.
Throughout these challenges in Hollywood, Serena is grounded by the traditions and folklore of Curaçao, embodied in the book by her beloved grandmother, Oma, a mixed race woman who has never been accepted into her husband’s side of the family, members of Curaçao’s Jewish merchant class.
One of Oma’s pieces of advice to Serena could stand as a capsule summation of House of Six Doors: “Always remember to look back so that you know where you have been,” she said. “Then look around to see where you are. Only then decide where you want to go.”
While reading House of Six Doors, it’s tempting to wonder how much is invention and how much is an accurate retelling of the author’s own experiences, since much of the book has the ring of truth. Selbert was raised on Curaçao and emigrated to the U.S. when in her teens. She now lives in Santa Barbara with her husband and two sons.
House of Six Doors is also available in a Special Illustrated Edition with enhanced content, including recipes, information about Curaçao, illustrations and an interview with the author. Order now for the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook or as an Apple iBook for $9.99.
The talk at Westmont College on April 19 was very lovely. I read excerpts from my novel and talked about how four different cultures influenced my identity.
The questions and conversation after the presentation were thoughtful and poignant and the discussion was lively and stimulating. I loved that many people in the audience shared their immigrant experiences, which brought the conversation to a deeper level.
Thanks to all who attended and Thanks to the Department of Sociology/Anthropology and The Office of Intercultural Programs at Westmont College for sponsoring this event!