Patricia Selbert’s ‘The House of Six Doors’: a story of immigration and personal transformation

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A post by Peter Jordens.

Danielle Palm of Go Weekly recently interviewed Patricia Selbert, author of The House of Six Doors, which tells the compelling coming-of-age story of an immigrant from Curaçao in the 1970s’ United States.

The author successfully manages to put the reader smack in the middle of it all: what it feels like to leave your home as a teenager, carve out a new identity in unfamiliar surroundings and integrate the past with the present to build a new future. This is a book everyone should read. Women of all ages can relate to the story and it offers men a window into the feminine world. Just make sure you have plenty of free time, because once you pick up the book, you won’t be able to put it down.

At thirteen, Serena moves with her Mama and sister to the United States, leaving her beloved grandmother behind. On her journey into adulthood, Serena has to deal with the transformation of herself as an individual and as part of her immigrant family, including clashing cultures, a mother chasing the American Dream, a sister addicted to drugs, falling in love and the loss of her beloved grandmother. Despite the heavy underlying themes, The House of Six Doors is a story about hope. Ancestry, spirituality and the struggle of bringing cultural identities into agreement with each other also play a big part in the story.

Like many Curaçaoans, Patricia Selbert had to learn how to balance her cultural identities. She was born in the jungles of Venezuela to Dutch parents, grew up in Colombia and Curaçao and when she was thirteen her family moved to the United States. “Part of me is very Dutch and part of me is Curaçaoan, however sometimes I can be totally American or Latina. But none of those identities is all of me. It’s almost as if I am broken up into pieces,” says Patricia. The author sees that as a very positive thing. “When I go to one of the countries, eat the cuisine and speak the language, that part of me revives. You need to realize that every cultural identity has good and evil and you need to keep them in balance.” One of the themes in the book explores the situation where the cultural identities do not get along. “Often people who are most critical of certain cultures are dealing with an internal struggle. Mama is a great example of what happens when there is a conflict in the cultural identities. She feels the Curaçao culture is less than the Dutch culture, while Oma [Grandma] feels more secure in her background.”

“My favorite character is Oma. I remember lying awake at night wondering whether she would show up. Being with her in writing and reading what I wrote the next day was probably the most enjoyable part of writing the book.” Although Patricia always loved making up stories, she never set out to be a writer. “I moved to a new country and had to learn a new language at the age of thirteen, so reading and writing didn’t come easy to me. The schooling system didn’t help much either. It wasn’t until my early thirties that I went back to college to polish my language skills.” Patricia wrote the book in short bursts at night when she couldn’t sleep and says that her instructor was instrumental in her becoming a writer. “Writing was like visiting my past every evening. There was no premeditated plan. My instructor recognized my writing as powerful and encouraged me to hone this skill.” Although language skills are important, to Patricia it is secondary to compelling content. “Language skills can be easily learned. However, few schools teach you how to feel the world and that is an important skill to have as a writer. I focus on the emotional and sensory aspect of the experience to create a scene and put my reader in the story. That is a skill I learned from working with horses. With animals, you need to look at other cues than language.”

Patricia says she has fond memories of her time in Curaçao and she believes that the island has a lot to offer in terms of different cultural influences. She is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program researching sensory aspects of the immigration experience. “What fascinates me the most about the immigrant experience is that we are all immigrants one way or another. With globalization it’s an issue and this book offers a different perspective.”

The House of Six Doors: An Autobiographical Novel

Santa Barbara, CA: Publishing by the Seas, 2012 (2nd edition)

330 pages

ISBN 978-0578063188

Patricia Selbert lives in Santa Barbara, California, and is enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Pacifica Graduate Institute. She has a special interest in the psychology of multicultural identity.

The above interview appeared on pp. 4-5 of the Vol. 10 Nr. 41 (October 9-15, 2014) print edition of Go Weekly. Another interview with Selbert, by Guilie Castillo-Oriard of Amigoe, is available at http://www.amigoe.com/amigoe-express/interviews/189874-patricia-selbert-its-culture-not-race-that-defines-us.

For more information visit http://publishingbytheseas.com/the-house-of-six-doors-2nd-ed, http://thehouseofsixdoors.com and http://patriciaselbert.com.

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