A Real Mother

Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun by Liza Bakewell starts with the author’s puzzlement over the many Spanish idioms using the word “madre,” and how some seem contradictory. She spends time in Mexico trying to ferret this out, and in the process, learns about the Mexican practice of alburear, a kind of wordplay generally done by men that involves double-entendres.

This is the most interesting part of the book: the examples she gives of alburear are fascinatingly complex and witty, in addition to being pretty filthy. But the rest of the book lost me. There is too much meandering and navel-gazing, and large sections that veer off from the main point (such as a long discussion on why so many different languages have similar words for “mama” and “papa”–long for a book that’s really about something else, but not detailed enough to actually address the topic in a meaningful way). I wish she had stuck to her travels and studies in Mexico and discussions with Spanish-speakers rather than trying to tackle other subjects.

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