Much like Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex, I went to Goodreads to get the synopsis as I really wasn’t sure how to describe this book:
United States of Banana takes place at the Statue of Liberty in post-9/11 New York City, where Hamlet, Zarathustra, and Giannina are on a quest to free the Puerto Rican prisoner Segismundo. Segismundo has been imprisoned for more than one hundred years, hidden away by his father, the king of the United States of Banana, for the crime of having been born. But when the king remarries, he frees his son, and for the sake of reconciliation, makes Puerto Rico the fifty-first state and grants American passports to all Latin American citizens. This staggering show of benevolence rocks the global community, causing an unexpected power shift with far-reaching implications.
I listened to United States of Banana on audio and it was a very similar experience to listening to Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex and I’m not sure if reading the physical book would have helped at all because United States of Banana is just weird.
Though I’m not sure the name of the person whose perspective the book started out from I was able to follow the first part of United States of Banana reasonably well. It was about what life was like in America (or the United States of Banana as it’s called throughout the book) for someone from Puerto Rico, and immigrants in general. How they have to know multiple languages and sometimes feel like they don’t belong in either place. It also follows this person as 9/11 happens and they witness the planes going into the Twin Towers. This part was both interesting and hard to listen to as it didn’t shy away from describing what they saw and felt, the panic, fear, confusion, and how then life after 9/11 changed.
It was when United States of Banana turned towards the Statue of Liberty, the prisoner Segismundo and had Hamlet, Zarathustra, and Giannina having philosophical debates and the Statue of Liberty being a living thing that could talk it became so hard to follow. I feel you needed to know the story of Hamlet (I only know the gist of it as it’s not a play I’ve seen/read) and who Zarathustra was (he was an Iranian prophet but I didn’t find that out until I googled the name) to really understand some of the tangents they went on and the people they mentioned.
The way United States of Banana is written and/or narrated means it’s like a stream of consciousness a lot of the time, or just rambling dialogue. When the characters are at Liberty Island it seems like instead of having the usual dialogue tags, it’d be like a play and say a character’s name, followed by what they said. This was difficult to follow as sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was a character saying the name of another character, or they were being introduced before saying their bit.
I think United States of Banana is more of a book about ideas and debates and theoretical situations with fictional character or ancient figures, rather than a book with a solid narrative. There are probably a lot of themes in this book and to begin with I liked what it was saying about immigrant life and how America often shifts the goalposts for people just trying to live their lives. However, in the end United States of Banana is hard to follow and is really weird. It may be a different experience when reading the physical book but overall, I found United States of Banana not a particularly enjoyable experience as it was difficult to retain the information given and follow any semblance of plot.