Lucky Bro­ken Girl

Ruth Behar
  • Review
By – March 24, 2017

Ruthie Mizrahi’s Amer­i­can dream is derailed when the fifth grader’s leg is injured in a vio­lent car crash. Lucky Bro­ken Girl describes how the recent­ly arrived fam­i­ly of Cuban Jews deals with the acci­dent, Ruthie’s recov­ery and their own accul­tur­a­tion to New York. Author Ruth Behar tells read­ers in an end­note that this is based on her per­son­al story. 

It is a year when get­ting a pair of Go-Go boots, mov­ing up to the smart class and play­ing with good friends are Ruthie’s aspi­ra­tions. Full of visu­al writ­ing, the sto­ry sings with the cha-cha-cha music of Cuba and smells of eth­nic cook­ing. The dia­logues and descrip­tions give a por­trait of a 1960 immi­grant neigh­bor­hood in Queens, New York with neigh­bors from India, Europe and Mex­i­co as well as African-Amer­i­cans and Irish. Most­ly Lucky Bro­ken Girl is about Amer­i­can­iza­tion, grow­ing up, and the devel­op­ment of Ruthie as an artist. Her voice unabashed­ly describes her prob­lems of trans­for­ma­tion and adap­tion through­out the year of heal­ing. Why didn’t we stay in Cuba?” Ruthie’s moth­er asks repeat­ed­ly after the ter­ri­ble acci­dent the fam­i­ly expe­ri­ences right after her father buys a too-expen­sive car. There is no spe­cif­ic men­tion of the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion that exiled the Mizrahis. World events are some­what remote but Ruth’s hip­pie tutor brings in ideas of women’s liberation. 

The sto­ry describes Ruth’s unique life as well as her inter­twined rela­tion­ship with her par­ents, rel­a­tives, neigh­bors, friends and med­ical pro­fes­sion­als. Behar does not shy away from describ­ing the family’s stress of adapt­ing as well as the emo­tions sur­round­ing dif­fi­cult finances and Ruthie’s injury. There is an easy back and forth between Eng­lish and Span­ish as Ruth helps her par­ents nav­i­gate in an Eng­lish speak­ing world. The plot focus­es around hope and the character’s aspi­ra­tions, as a per­son and a devel­op­ing artist. Behar does not mince words describ­ing the agony of the jour­ney. Bed­pans play a promi­nent role as does prune juice. The sto­ry acknowl­edges her mother’s bur­den car­ing for her daugh­ter and try­ing to be pos­i­tive in the face of the weight of being a new­com­er. Ruth is drawn to the visu­al arts, words and sto­ries. Let­ters to God process the expe­ri­ences and feel­ings in her new­ly diverse world. Ruth writes down her Jew­ish family’s sto­ries on a new type­writer. What was that like, Baba, to trav­el all by your­self? Were you very scared?” Ruth asks her grand­moth­er who, as a young woman, took a train from War­saw to Rot­ter­dam and then a ship to Cuba to escape the anti-Semi­tism of Europe. Ruth’s father is Sephar­di and her moth­er is Ashkenazi.

Lucky Bro­ken Girl cap­tures the par­tic­u­lar sto­ry of Cuban Jew­ish exiles like the Mizrahis and their friends dubbed el grupo:” Like us they are Cuban and Jew­ish, they dance cha-cha-cha, and eat mat­zo on Passover. There’s pret­ty Mimi and her much old­er hus­band Bernar­do, and their chil­dren Amaryl­lis and Abie who go to a yeshi­va and know all the Hebrew prayers. Dori­ta, in an ele­gant white pantsuit, and Oscar, who’s very smart and an archi­tect, are with their chil­dren, Beby and Fred­dy, the four of them are sun­tanned from a week­end in Mia­mi Beach. And there’s Hil­da, who is always wor­ried Imre will be robbed because he sells dia­mond rings on Forty-Sev­enth Street, and their chil­dren Eva and Ezra, who are too shy to talk. “?Quieren carame­los, kender­le?” Ruth’s grand­fa­ther, called Zei­de, asks his grand­chil­dren offer­ing sweets. He was born in Rus­sia and mix­es Span­ish and Yid­dish when he talks. Ruth’s grand­moth­er calls her shay­na maid­eleh.” This fam­i­ly has expe­ri­enced upheaval in every gen­er­a­tion. But the Mizrahi fam­i­ly is not reli­gious and wel­come even the prayers of their nan­ny back in Cuba to the Catholic saint San Lazaro or the San­te­ria Orisha Babalu-Aye to help Ruthie recover. 

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 and up.

Discussion Questions