With summer here more people are crowding the bookstores to find the perfect book to take to the beach, a picnic, poolside, or on vacation. In 2009, author Julia Amante’s novel was released. I had the honor of winning five intriguing novels from Hatchette Book Group for Hispanic Heritage Month back in September of last year. Included in the tremendous prize pack was Amante’s novel EVENINGS AT THE ARGENTINE CLUB, which I recently read and just loved! This novel is wonderful for the adults in the family.
EVENINGS AT THE ARGENTINE CLUB is a novel that leaves its readers feeling as though they know the characters in the book. Their story is so real and thought-provoking that one often finds their mind wandering toward the characters even after the book is closed. The characters feel so real that readers can often identify to at least one of Amante’s well-developed characters.
Interview with author JULIA AMANTE:
AR: Welcome, Julia Amante! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and time with readers.
JA: You’re welcome! Thanks for inviting me!
AR: How would you describe EVENINGS AT THE ARGENTINE CLUB to someone who had not read it yet?
JA: Well, there’s a reason that this novel is centered around the Argentine Club, because at its heart, this book is about family and community. I wanted readers to enter this world and become part of the club. To feel the feelings of a mother who is experiencing an empty nest. To participate in drama that adult children experience with parents who have different expectations of them than what they have for themselves. To share the American dreams of the characters, because I believe we all have our own dreams of a successful life whether we are immigrants or have been in America for multi-generations. The dreams may look different, but they feel the same in our hearts.
AR: What was it about EVENINGS AT THE ARGENTINE CLUB that made you want to tell this story? When did the idea first enter your mind?
JA: I was inspired to write EVENINGS AT THE ARGENTINE CLUB, which has a central theme achieving the American dream, from a binder of letters written between my father and grandfather after my father immigrated to this country. I was so moved by the emotion in those letters and the hopes and expectation that my father had for his future, that I knew one day I wanted to write an immigration story. But I didn’t want it to be a typical story about the trials and hardships of immigrating, that’s been done before and probably much better than what I could do. I wanted to show what happens after the initial “dream”. I wanted to show the realities of immigrating to America and the difficulties. Though I admit that I presented a happy ending at the end, and more often than not, that doesn’t happen–but because this is commercial fiction I felt the need to end on a happy note.
AR: Who is the intended audience for your novel? What is it that you hope readers take away from reading EVENINGS AT THE ARGENTINE CLUB?
JA: In general, the same readers who enjoy reading women’s fiction novels would enjoy reading EVENINGS. But specifically, I almost feel like I wrote this one for myself and those like me who struggled to find an identity away from a “culture”, away from the dreams of parents. I wrote it for women like Jaqueline who gave everything to raising a family and now find themselves wondering if anyone appreciated the sacrifices and love they gave to their family. My hope is that readers will feel like they actually know some of these people in the book, and that they feel empowered to follow their own dreams.
AR: Julia, who was the easiest character for you to create and write about? Who was the most difficult? Why?
JA: Victor was the easiest, because he is so much like my own father. Sadly, my father passed away many years ago, but I felt like he was channeling his energy into Victor. The most difficult was Eric. I had to do a lot of research on house flipping and remodeling. And I had to create a situation and a character that would be strong enough to leave his family and go against his culture, yet gentle enough that he would return and be a man Victoria (and readers) could fall in love with– not easy.
AR: Without giving away too many details, do you believe Victoria’s inner struggle with her life was compounded by being a Latina-American or was it because she is a female?
JA: Both. As a Latina woman, she was under tremendous pressure to live as her parents commanded. She felt an obligation as the oldest daughter to be there for her parents. She also felt disloyal for wanting her own life. In the Latino culture, family comes first. We just don’t abandon our family. We don’t question our parents. We don’t put ourselves ahead of the family. Victoria felt all of this. Eric did as well, but he, being male, was able to rebel and break out on his own. This was a huge attraction for Victoria, even though she acted like she held it against him. In reality, she was extremely envious that he had the courage to leave. And sort of as a sub-text, Eric was very much like Victor who left his family in Argentina to follow his American dream. Watching and learning from these two men, Victoria is actually able to shed the cultural expectations weighing her down and become independent.
AR: As the author, you had the creative ability to make Victoria look like a super model. Why was it important for her to have the insecurities about her body that she did?
JA: This question made me laugh. From day one, I never thought of creating Victoria to look anything like a super model. In fact, I had planned on her having a larger issue with weight than she actually ended up having in this novel. But then it would have been a different kind of book. The reason she has body image problems is that she lacks the strength to be the person she wants to be. At the opening of the book, she doesn’t know who she is. She’s overweight (burdened by obligations) she doesn’t like the way she looks, but doesn’t do anything about it (neither does she do anything about working at a job she dislikes). The image of herself, both internally and externally had to match. As she begins to explore herself, she becomes more of who she really is, and the weight comes off almost without her trying. In real life, it’s a little more complicated than this, I know. But really, weight issues are rarely about weight. It’s about unhappiness, trying to stuff down problems, etc., and this is what I wanted it to be for Victoria. I didn’t want her to lose weight just because she wanted to look good or fit into a dress. I wanted it to be because she was changing inside and out.
AR: Graduation season is upon us, what wisdom do you think your character Jaqueline would impart on young women graduating from high school or college? What do you think Victoria would say to the young women?
JA: Wow, this is a tough one. Jaqueline, by the end of the novel, would probably tell young women to find a passion and go for it, and not to get married too young. To not lose themselves in another person. Victoria might say something similar, adding that getting an education is only the beginning. That after graduation, they should take action to continue to become the person they envision. To make a plan and follow it, otherwise it becomes way too easy to follow other people’s plans.
AR: If EVENINGS AT THE ARGENTINE CLUB was made into a motion picture who would you like to see play Victoria, Jaqueline, and Victor? How about Benjamin Bratt as Eric?
JA: There are very few Latino actors and you see the same ones over and over again in movies. Have you heard of Eduardo Verastegui? He was in a movie called Chasing Papi as well as a few sexy Calvin Klein ads. He’s gorgeous and he’d probably be my first choice for Eric, based on looks. We could work on his accent…though it might be sexy to leave it in. :) As for Victoria, none of the current actresses would be a good fit. Singer Thalia would come close if she gained a few pounds. Victoria is a size 14 and this is one of the issues she has with herself. Not that she should, of course, since most “real” women are not super thin, but it’s an issue for Victoria in the book. Most Hollywood actresses are of course, very thin. As for Jaqueline, I’d love to see Diane Lane, even though she’s in her early 40’s, but Hollywood can make her look 50ish. Victor is tough- maybe Andy Garcia. I could see him brooding and working hard at a restaurant as his family falls apart.
AR: Julia, your novel is filled with so much passion. Passion for family, passion for food, and a passion for one to follow their dreams. What are you passionate about and what is it you hope your children remember the most about you?
JA: Probably sounds crazy, but I’m passionate about everything I do, otherwise I don’t do it. I’m passionate about being a mother, and my kids often tell me they wish I didn’t love them so much so that I’d leave them alone. I’m passionate about writing- so much that when I’m writing I’m inside the world of the book and feel like I’m coming out of a dream when I close my laptop. I’m passionate about helping kids and animals, so I’m a girl scout leader and I volunteer at an aquarium. I’m passionate about reading, staying healthy, education, and being a good friend. Really, I’m passionate about life. I’m not sure what my children will remember, but I do hope they learn to be considerate and tolerant of others and that they are never afraid to be themselves.
AR: Many families from the Bay Area make their way every year to Southern California for summer vacation. Julia, can you recommend a family-friendly Argentine restaurant in the SoCal area? If so, what do you suggest readers order?
JA: I know there are quite a few good restaurants in Los Angeles, however, I live quite a distance from the city so I don’t go to those restaurants. A very nice place that is small and family owned is in Upland and it’s called Tango Baires Café. I LOVE their asado. You get a small grill filled with beef, chicken, sausages, sweet breads, and it’s delicious. My kids love the milanesa napolitana which is breaded beef, sort of like chicken fried steak, but way better and it has tomato sauce and cheese on top. Comes with a plate of french fries!
AR: Are there any plans for a sequel to EVENINGS AT THE ARGENTINE CLUB?
JA: No. I rarely do sequels, and the reason I don’t like them is that by the end of the novel, each character should have learned something and the reader should believe that they will now go on to have a good life as this new person. In a sequel, the author has to re-complicate character lives and it negates the happily ever after of novel number one. This is why I really dislike all these Sex and the City movies, even though I loved the show. Mr. Big chases Carrie all the way to Paris to finally commit, then in the movie he has cold feet again. Really? I didn’t buy it. But I know it’s just me. Most people love it. However, my next novel will again have Argentine characters and readers will travel to an Argentine wine country setting.
AR: Julia, please share what upcoming projects or events you have planned?
JA: My next book, as I’ve stated, is set in a winery, both in California and Argentina. It’s about a woman who has spent her life helping her parents create a winery business when her goals were to become a marine biologist. Sort of like, It’s a Wonderful Life, every time she expected to be able to leave, something prevented her from being able to do so. At the opening of the novel, her parents have died and she’s in the process of selling the business and will finally be free to do what she wants in life, when her cousin dies and leaves her as the guardian of her three children who live in Argentina. This forces her to travel to Argentina and make the difficult decision of accepting family obligation over her last chance at happiness.
AR: As a dedicated mom, how do you make certain you balance quality time with your children and are able to continue writing?
JA: I don’t believe in balance. My children always come first. I write late in the evening and on weekends. Sometimes I don’t get a chance to write at all. My career suffers a bit, because of that, but one thing I never want them to remember about me is that I chose my career over them or that I wasn’t there for them when they needed me. And I have a fabulous husband that will alter his schedule if I need more time to work. Additionally, I try to include them in my work when I can. If I’m going to a conference, for example, I take them with me. I once heard a speaker say that balance is an illusion. Sometimes we give more to work, sometimes more to home, sometimes more to things like our health or friendships. And I find that it’s true. When I try to give equal time to everything, I end up feeling stressed. So, I’ve learned to prioritize. Kids first, writing second, friends third, home and cleaning last- LOL.
AR: Do you have any plans to visit San Jose or the Bay Area for a book signing and the opportunity to meet your fans up here?
JA: I wish!! I took a week long trip to San Francisco and Sacramento last summer and had a blast. I drove with my family up the coast and returned through the central valley. We have such a gorgeous state, don’t we? I might decide to visit again when my next book comes out next year. I’ll definitely let you know!
AR: Thank you for your time. Julia, it was truly a pleasure to read your novel and to have the opportunity to chat with you! All the best to you!
JA: Thank you so much, I hope my answers were not too long.
Readers, stop by Saturday to see a favorite recipe Julia Amante shares with the readers of San Jose Family Entertainment Examiner and for a special announcement!