Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain
by Michele Morano

University of Iowa Press, 2007. ISBN 158729530X.
Reviewed by Sharon Blumberg
Posted on 01/08/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

In Grammar Lessons, Michele Morano takes the reader on an unforgettable journey, a treat to the senses. She invites us to explore her thoughts and feelings as she experiences daily life in Spain in the early 1990's, while teaching English at the University of Oviedo for a year. While in Oviedo, she enrolled in a Spanish language course for foreigners or "extranjeros."

In thirteen personal essays, Morano captures the reader's heart with her descriptive and poetic style. Her themes evoke a feeling of familiarity, for her stories are organized around topics such as food, travel, and solitude versus loneliness. "I'm hungry in both body and spirit," she writes. "I crave not just a meal, not just the take-out supper I can carry to the emptiness of my room, but a complete dining experience." One pressing issue during the year in Spain was her longing for the man she left behind in New York.

Morano prefaces her book by explaining that grammar is not simply words strung together to form sentences, but the mannerisms, gestures, and ways of life that accompany language. The book is organized into three parts. The essays in Part One reveal her struggle to learn the Spanish language while living the culture. The essays in Part Two revolve around her later trips to Spain. Part Three reflects her attitude toward travel along highways and how it shapes the individual. Morano's sentiments about travel and saying farewell to relationships are reflected in these lines:

"If you move about in the world, if you live fully and fall in love—with friends, acquaintances, and places and periods of time, your heart is going to break again and again. Each time you say good-bye, you'll feel the ache of impermanence, of inevitability, of your own finite days."

I connected with this book because I would have benefitted greatly from studying in foreign lands while I was studying Spanish as my college major. However, overseas travel and study programs were not as prevalent in the late 70's or early 80's as they are now. I have since made many excursions to Mexico and Spain, although at this point in my life I live vicariously as an eager armchair traveler. I comfortably travel to many faraway places through others' spoken and written accounts.

As I read Grammar Lessons, Morano took me on a vivid tour of her daily discoveries of cultural life and relationships in Spain. The pages held me spellbound, and I wished the journey did not have to end.

Michele Morano is an assistant professor in the English department at DePaul University. Her essays have appeared in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including Best American Essays, 2006 Fourth Genre, and The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers/on Creative Non-fiction, The Georgia Review, The Missouri Review, Under the Sun, Crab Orchard Review, and Chicago Public Radio's 848. Visit her website.

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