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A Chance to See Egypt by Sandra Scofield

Reviewed by Allan Cogan

My spies tell me that author Scofield used to live in Ajijic and that Lago de Luz, the setting for her novel, is in fact Ajijic. If so, here’s her description of the village:

"Lago de Luz, on the altiplano far from the sea, where it is neither hot nor cold, boasts no buildings higher than two stories, and no slick discos. It is rather a sleepy place, swollen on weekends when musicians and vendors make the plaza festive for the tourists in from the nearby city. Resident Americans and Canadians make their own social life in their suburban enclaves and trailer parks, their apartments and houses, halls and meeting rooms. The Lakeside Society is the hub of activity, the place where everyone crosses, but there are many diversions: Elk Clubs, Rotarians, Veterans Clubs, Red Cross and all the interest groups, for cards and dominoes and self-improvement. "

Three or four years after that was written one could certainly quibble with the word "sleepy" to describe present-day Ajijic. One would have to also include the sound of real estate salesmen’s pitches, cement trucks and jackhammers to complete the picture. But it’s still not a bad summary of the way many people live their lives here, even today, even after all the developers have invaded the place.

The story is about Tom Riley whose wife has died and left him "out of balance". He returns to Mexico, the place where he and his wife spent their honeymoon. He meets an expatriate American writer who also has a painful past. She, the narrator of the story, tries to get Tom to start changing his life, rewriting his story.

He also meets Consolata, a small restaurant owner, and her lovely daughter Divina. Tom and Divina fall in love. Which is how he begins changing the plot of his life. And of course the two eventually marry. Of such simple, straightforward stuff is this story made.

If I have reservations with this book it is that the Mexicans all seem so wise and noble, especially Consolata who is given to saying things like, " God gives us ideas like seeds. He means us to use them;" or: " You are looking at your life with one eye closed, with your hands clasped like a monk." There’s a mild attempt on the author’s part to suggest Consolata has magical powers, or at least knows everything that goes on. But it doesn’t really go anywhere.

There’s a fiesta at the end of the story where Riley is dancing with Divina and we read the following: " He danced. He tried to imagine they were cast in a movie from the forties." And that’s my problem with this story. I found it more than coincidental to come upon that sentence because I was thinking just the same thing. There’s an occasional striving to be pretty and picturesque and the occasional scene – the fiesta, for instance - comes across like a scene from a Hollywood musical about Mexico.

When I read a book now I invariably look in amazon.com to see what other people are saying about it. One often comes up with an insight or two. In this case, I found a quote from the author:

"I wrote this fanciful tale of love at a time when I needed to believe that there was light at the end of the dark night. So I used that very metaphor to construct a story of a good man who thinks he is too timid to make a new life after his wife’s death. I wove spirituality, passion, affection for village life into a story in which, like a folk tale, everyone plays out fate and finds happiness."

I think the first sentence of that quote is the key to this novel. It has the feel of a deeply personal story, perhaps a healing process for the author herself, rather than being a merely concocted tale.

If you’re looking for action, plot, suspense and all those things that make you burn the midnight oil, this isn’t for you. If you enjoy a quiet, reflective exploration of another person’s life, by all means, take a look at this book.

 

A Chance To See Egypt
By Sandra Scofield

1996, Cliff Street Books

Available from Amazon Books: Paperback -- Hardcover

 

Published or Updated on: February 15, 2001 by Allan Cogan © 2008
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