United States of Banana
Apocalypse and grand-guignol merge in Giannina Braschi’s irreverent account of September 11th. Turning disaster into a Surreal nightmare, she catalogues what is left of the attack to the Towers in the form of scattered body parts: here, the torso of a businessmen flying in his bright white shirt, there, two hands holding each other before the last jump, and, only few blocks away, a rolling head crowned by glazed donuts.
Perfect for an audiobook in its jazzy, colloquial style, and ideal to be read aloud in the corrosive style of Lenny Bruce, United States of Banana develops from the sophisticated intricacy of a Postmodern narrative, overlapping the voices of Segismundo and Hamlet, Calderon and Shakespeare, Seneca and Artaud. Through her intertextual vision shaped by the masterpieces of both the Spanish and the English tradition, the Puerto Rican writer accounts for the falling towers as the ultimate American spectacle, turning terror and catastrophe into a tragic comedy seen through the bewildered, satiric eyes of a Hispanic passer-by. Her black humor is as blasphemous as Max Papeschi’s digital collage of McDonald’s clowns in a military mission in Afghanistan. Challenging the fear and repression of dissent in the age of terror, Giannina Braschi wickedly brings a black humorous touch to the entropic scenes of disaster, writing from the estranged perspective of a Puerto Rican in New York. The best part of her writing lies in the code switching and the verbal ironies produced by her creative use of Spanglish, which contributes to make of September 11th a transnational event broader than the monochrome version staged on tv.
From its very title, United States of Banana, is the quintessential danse macabre of the millennium, coming from a word-player who knows how to grin at despair, like a Shakespearean fool who is too busy to dig out from the ashes the signs of a new era to partake of the mourning hoopla of the national order resuscitated after the mutilating attack to the most iconic towers in media history.
If you are looking for the typical Latina work, this is not it. In United States of Banana, you will not find family sagas; there is no magical realism, nor fictionalized accounts of the history of a colonized country, with a special emphasis on the oppression of women. Not here. In this wonderfully complex text, Giannina Braschi pays a dear homage to her homeland, Puerto Rico, but the work is so much enmeshed in what we can call universal literature, or just literature, that whether it is to be tagged under Latino fiction or not is beyond the point. In Braschi’s third book, we find all of the author’s literary, spiritual and physical universe combined and interacting in a Pirandellian way. Characters from her previous works, such as Mariquita Samper, Giannina, and even the Statue of Liberty, enter the stage and take hold of language to articulate a coherent, although fragmentary, discourse, through an aesthetic that defies the boundaries of the poetic, the dramatic, and the philosophical.
This work is Giannina Braschi herself, but it is also New York and Puerto Rico; the relationship of the Boricuas with the United States and Spain; the Latino heritage and the Anglo. Through the vision of Hamlet, Segismundo, and Zarathustra, Giannina will dissect and explore not only the political repercussions of the Free Associatedness of Puerto Rico, but also what it means to be physical, linguistic and spiritually dependent of another, and the meaning of freedom in this context. It is here that the events of September 11 serve as the frame in which a reconsideration of the definition of the human takes place. Experimental, revolutionary and profoundly philosophical, United States of Banana is to be read as The Waste Land of the 21st Century.