Little Nation and Other Stories: A noteworthy collection with focuses on key Chicano themes – #fiction #bookreview

Little Nation

 Little Nation and Other Stories

Alejandro Morales

Translated from the Spanish by Adam Spires

Arte Público Press – paperback

At least four key themes infuse the well-written short stories in this important collection: identity, injustice, marginalization, and the Chicano community’s seemingly endless search for space it can comfortably call “home.” The stories’ author, Alejandro Morales, has penned several novels, including River of Angels, and is a professor at the University of California at Irvine.

In an excellent essay that precedes the collection, translator Adam Spires explores both the long writing career of Morales and Morales’s strong focus on economic inequality, borders and “the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country–a border culture….”

Spires writes that “nowhere is the economic imbalance more ruthless than at the border itself, where multi-nationals set up their interim maquiladoras to exploit a disadvantaged Mexican workforce. Arguably,” Spires contends, “the only thing worse than poverty is poverty surrounded by abundant wealth: high-tech wealth, drug cartel wealth and the alluring Gringo wealth on the other side. The social costs at the margins of the global economy are staggering, and it is here that Morales fixes his gaze and takes up his pen, chronicling the extremes of injustice in a body of work distinguished by its poignant portrayal of spatial dynamics and social disparities.”

Morales also is a master at portraying everyday people and situations within a Chicano community in Los Angeles County. Some of his stories are warm and gentle, such as “Mama Concha,” in which a young boy enjoys what his grandmother is teaching him about loving the land and the fruits and vegetable it can produce. Other stories in the collection deal with troubling situations. And some deal head-on with shocking violence.

Overall, however, Little Nation and Other Stories is infused with currents of hope for the future of Chicano communities and appreciation for the people who live there.

Si Dunn

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KLAIL CITY / KLAIL CITY y sus alrededores – 1st bilingual edition of the 2nd novel in the famed ‘Klail City Death Trip’ series – #bookreview

 

Klail City y sus alredeores

Klail City / Klail City y sus alrededores

Rolando Hinojosa

(Arte Público – paperback)

 

Problems involving race relations and immigration never go away in the United States. Sometimes, they boil over in big, violent ways that bring them back to the headlines, spotlights and TV screens — until something else happens that shifts the media’s–and the public’s–attentions elsewhere. Yet, even then, the problems stay with us, in our daily lives and in our literature.

Klail City / Klail City y sus alrededores is the second book in Rolando Hinojosa’s famed “Klail City Death Trip” series, which recently totaled 15 novels. In Klail City, a fictional town near the Texas-Mexico border, Texas Mexicans are the majority population, but a minority of Anglos run the town.

This well-written book, set just before and during the Korean War, examines life at a time when Anglos on the high school football team are given letter jackets, but the Texas Mexican players initially are not. It is a town where a young Mexican-American veteran of combat in World War II has been shot down by an Anglo deputy sheriff under questionable circumstances. After a long-delayed trial, the deputy is cleared by a jury, and the young veteran’s father can do little else to protest except destroy a marker listing the names of men from the county who were killed during the war, including his own son. It is a town where one man tells another: “We’re like the Greeks, Don Manuel. Slaves in service of the Romans…we’ve got to educate them, these Romans, these Anglos…amounts to the same thing.”

The Spanish version of Klail City was published in the 1970s in Cuba and won the Casa de las Américas prize in 1976. Arte Público Press at the University of Houston published an English language edition in 1987.

The new edition from Arte Público is the first bilingual version to be published. The novel is presented first in English, followed by the Spanish version.

Rolando Hinojosa’s often experimental writing style has been described as having echoes of William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Márquez.  His 15-book “Klail City Death Trip” series is set mostly in fictional Belken County in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Arte Público is “the nation’s largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors.”

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

Muerte en una estrella – Shooting Star: An excellent, disturbing novel in first English translation – #fiction #bookreview

 

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Muerte en Una Estrella – Shooting Star

Sergio D. Elizondo

English Translation by Rosaura Sánchez and Beatriz Pita

(Arte Público Presspaperback)

Available for the first time in English, this excellent and troubling bilingual novel imagines the dying thoughts of two Mexican youths after they were shot by Austin police in March, 1968, apparently while running away from a shouted order to “Halt!”

Originally published in 1984, the novel is a eulogy for Oscar Balboa, 16, and Valentín Rodriguez, 19, who were both unarmed and on leave from Camp Gary, a Job Corps training facility near San Marcos, Texas.

Their deaths occurred during a nationally troubled time that was rife with bigotry and racial discrimination. And Shooting Star gives some important insights into efforts and actions by the Chicano civil rights movement during that time period.

In the novel’s English translation, Oscar Balboa and  Valentín Rodriguez are described as “strutting icons of Raza manhood worthy of a guitar ballad.” And after they are shot, their dying thoughts cover a wide and often moving range of memories, thoughts and impressions. As one example, Oscar remembers coming north from Mexico to work in the fields, and he remembers taking part in farm worker protest marches with his father. Meanwhile, Valentín is not really sure if he has been shot or not, but he knows he cannot move, nor make Oscar hear him. And he feels what he thinks is dew on his back as he recalls some of his own life and his brief time with Oscar.

Shooting Star definitely is worthy of its praise as “a classic” in Mexican-American literature. This excellent first English translation will introduce the author and the book and its insights to many more readers.

Si Dunn

 

The Valley – Estampas del valle: Now in bilingual paperback for the first time – #bookreview

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The Valley / Estampas del valle

Rolando Hinojosa

(Arte Público Press – paperback)

The long-turbulent Texas-Mexico border is in the news once again. So this is a timely moment to introduce or reintroduce readers to the famed Klail City Death Trip Series, fifteen books written by Rolando Hinojosa. The series is in a mythical Texas county on America’s southern frontier, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The first book in that series, The Valley, introduces readers to life in Belken County, where Anglo Texans and Mexican Texans live side by side, and people die, or encounter death, on nearly every page. Their stories of everyday events, including love, weddings, births, friendships, affairs, discrimination and dying, are told mostly in short, well-written vignettes that cover the time period generally from World War I to 1970.

Arte Público Press recently has published the first bilingual, English-Spanish edition of The Valley, which initially appeared as Estampas del Valle in the early 1970s. And this is a noteworthy literary event for fans of both Hispanic literature and American literature in general.

Rolando Hinojosa’s fictional Belken County has been compared very favorably with William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County and with Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional city, Macondo, in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Klail City is just one of several fictional towns in that appear as settings in Hinojosa’s imaginary county.

Hinojosa has spent his entire–lengthy–writing career bringing new characters, situations and locations to the Death Trip Series. And his books have won numerous prestigious writing awards, including The National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award and, in 1976, the most prestigious prize in Latin American Fiction, Casa de las Américanas, for the best  Spanish American novel. He is now a professor of creative writing at the University of Texas in Austin.

Si Dunn