The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories: Chicano noir…and more

Skull of Pancho Villa, The

The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories

Manuel Ramos

Arté Público Press – paperback

 

Seemingly mundane moments in life quickly spin out of control in this engaging collection of 22 short stories. And Denver writer Manuel Ramos frequently comes up with surprising endings for his tales.

Some of his short stories can be labeled “Chicano noir.” They get dark and gritty as they move along through the struggles and ragged edges of Mexican-American life in the United States. Meanwhile, other stories in the collection explore different themes, such as the thoughts of a young Mexican-American soldier as he lays dying in Vietnam and what happens when a Mexican-American shoeshine boy gets pulled into a barroom fight and is defended by the writer Jack Kerouac.

Manuel Ramos has won several literary awards and is the author of a number of novels from a variety of publishers. At least one prominent writer who admires his work has labeled Ramos “the godfather of Chicano noir.”

His stories, however, are entertaining and easily accessible at a universal level. And he writes with a smooth clarity that looks simple on the page, yet is very difficult for most authors to achieve.

Si Dunn

Order The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Confessions of a Book Burner – A novelist and poet’s engrossing journey to find her creativity and strength – #bookreview

 

Confessions of a Book Burner

Lucha Corpi

 (Arte Público Press – paperback )

 

In the Mexican state of Vera Cruz, a school teacher who knew the Corpi family let little four-year-old Lucha come to class with her older brother and spend each day sitting quietly at the back of the room.

As Lucha watched and listened, she soon began learning how to read and write and also how, literally, to blend into backgrounds.

These skills later would serve her well at a pivotal moment in her adult life, when she suddenly found herself a divorced young mother living in a foreign country, the United States, with a young son to support  while surrounded by racial bias.

Confessions of a Book Burner is a well-written collection of personal essays and stories that reflect on Lucha Corpi’s journey to becoming a novelist, poet and teacher, and then, breaking out of her in-the-background comfort zone, becoming a San Francisco Bay-area activist for bilingual education, women’s rights, and civil rights.

“Throughout my life, no matter where I’ve lived, silence and melancholy have been my friends and allies,” she writes in her memoir. “They’ve aided the internalization of feeling and the introspection necessary to find the variety of incongruent elements in my conscious and subconscious mind that eventually come together to form [a] poem” or other written work.

“Teaching, writing and motherhood, all-consuming aspects of my life, hardly allowed me time to wallow in self-pity or regret,” she adds.

Lucha Corpi is now an internationally recognized novelist, poet, and author of children’s books. Among her works are four novels in the Gloria Damasco Mystery series, which she began after reading “many mystery novels as well as author interviews on the writing of crime fiction….”

She continues: “Every road taken in my search for the reason Chicanas do not write mysteries kept leading me back to the reading corner. Sin lectura no hay ni escritura e literatura–there is no literature without reading and writing.” Her informal surveys of Chicanas and Latinas convinced her that these readers turned away from mysteries because they don’t like stories about crime and guns and women as victims and seldom have read them.

To that, she writes: “I can…assure any Chicana who is now contemplating penning a mystery novel that the writing of crime fiction, when one respects one’s art, is as legitimate as any other kind of writing; that exposing the machinations of a ‘justice system’ which more often than not stacks the deck against women, especially women of color, is not only all right; it is also a way to obtaining justice  for those who won’t or can’t speak for themselves.”

Si Dunn

Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Apricot Jam and Other Stories’ – #bookreview #fiction #Russia – updated

Apricot Jam and Other Stories
By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
(Counterpoint, $28.00)

A major literary work is now available for readers who relish the works of modern Russian writers, particularly the ones who rebelled against communism’s restrictive censorship and social, legal and economic rigidities and achieved international acclaim during the final decades of the Soviet Union.

Apricot Jam and Other Stories,  an engrossing collection of eight short stories by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, has been published by Berkeley, Calif.-based Counterpoint.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, primarily on the strength of three novels, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, In The First Circle (better known as The First Circle), and Cancer Ward. These books shone glaring, shocking spotlights on the Gulag, a USSR government agency that operated a brutal, sprawling system of forced labor camps for political prisoners, criminals and others who ran afoul of  Soviet laws, officials, informants and secret police.

Significantly, the eight short stories in this 352-page collection are making their first appearance in English. They were initially published in Russia in 1994, after Solzhenitsyn ended years of exile in the West and returned to his native land. He died in 2008.

The title story provides an excellent example of the unusual “binary” writing style that Solzhenitsyn employed in these eight works of short fiction. In “Apricot Jam,” the son of a kulak (a relatively affluent peasant) has almost lost everything in his life except the memories of the apricot jam his mother used to make for him before communism and collective agriculture destroyed his family and his farm. He is now nearly starving to death while serving internal exile and doing hard labor in a distant town. In desperation, he writes a letter to a famous Russian writer who has published a book touting that the “meaning of life is labor in a communist society.”  He humbly begs the famous writer to send him a food parcel, because he is working hard to try to stay alive, yet now nearing death from lack of nourishment.

In the second part of the “Apricot Jam” story, the exile’s letter has arrived at the famous writer’s elegant dacha outside Moscow. There, the famous writer entertains a professor of cinema, as well as a neighbor, the head of the literary department in the State Publishing House, a man who “held the reins of the whole of literature in his hands….”

In the posh dacha, the men also enjoy some apricot jam, but it is just one minor trapping amid the surrounding opulence as they speak in praise of Comrade Stalin, socialist realism, and how “Creating an art of world significance–that is the task of the writer today.” The apricot jam briefly figures into their discussion as a symbol for a type of  “amber transparency” that “should be present in literary language, as well.” 

Soon, the famous writer mentions the unusual letter he has received from the exiled, starving worker. And, as they discuss its text, their final analysis of it is devastating.

In the story “The New Generation,” a principled and disciplined engineering professor finally gives in to pleadings by a failing student and hands him a passing grade. The professor is, after all, under orders to “make allowances” for the students now being sent to him from factories, some of whom would be “better off making pots and pans” rather than being forced to become engineers.

 Two years later, in the second part of the story’s binary structure, the engineering professor is arrested, and his interrogator from the GPU (the State Political Directorate) is none other than the failing student who had talked him into a passing grade. The ex-student cannot undo the professor’s arrest, yet he can and does, as a sort of return favor, offer him three grim choices of fates. 

Solzhenitsyn served with distinction as a captain in the Red Army during World War II, but was arrested after he wrote a letter that included disparaging remarks about Josef Stalin’s leadership of the war effort. The writer spent the next eight years in Soviet labor camps and another three years in internal exile.

Much of his fiction in Apricot Jam and Other Stories draws its creative spark from his grim wartime and Gulag experiences. Yet some of the stories also deal with post-Soviet issues in the times of Yeltsin and Gorbachev. For example, in the concluding story, “Fracture Points,” characters face the difficulty of trying to adapt to new freedoms and new economic structures at a time when “[t]he word ‘privatize’ was as frightening as a sea monster.”

If you have never before read any Solzhenitsyn, Apricot Jam and Other Stories can be a good introduction that may inspire you to also delve into his earlier works of fiction, particularly the ones that brought him the Nobel Prize for Literature 41 years ago.

This new book, translated by “TK” and published by Counterpoint, demonstrates once again why Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn continues to deserve his ranking as one of the world’s great writers.

 — Si Dunn

#

Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Apricot Jam and Other Stories’ – #bookreview

Apricot Jam and Other Stories
By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
(Counterpoint, $28.00)

A major literary work is now available for readers who relish the works of modern Russian writers, particularly the ones who rebelled against communism’s restrictive censorship and social, legal and economic rigidities and achieved international acclaim during the final decades of the Soviet Union.

Apricot Jam and Other Stories,  an engrossing collection of eight short stories by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, is now available from Berkeley, Calif.-based Counterpoint.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, primarily on the strength of three novels, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, In The First Circle (better known as The First Circle), and Cancer Ward. These books shone glaring, shocking spotlights on the Gulag, a USSR government agency that operated a brutal, sprawling system of forced labor camps for political prisoners, criminals and others who ran afoul of  Soviet laws, officials, informants and secret police.

Significantly, the eight short stories in this 352-page collection are making their first appearance in English. They were initially published in Russia in 1994, after Solzhenitsyn ended years of exile in the West and returned to his native land. He died in 2008.

The title story provides an excellent example of the unusual “binary” writing style that Solzhenitsyn employed in these eight works of short fiction. In “Apricot Jam,” the son of a kulak (a relatively affluent peasant) has almost lost everything in his life except the memories of the apricot jam his mother used to make for him before communism and collective agriculture destroyed his family and his farm. He is now nearly starving to death while serving internal exile and doing hard labor in a distant town. In desperation, he writes a letter to a famous Russian writer who has published a book touting that the “meaning of life is labor in a communist society.”  He humbly begs the famous writer to send him a food parcel, because he is working hard to try to stay alive, yet now nearing death from lack of nourishment.

In the second part of the “Apricot Jam” story, the exile’s letter has arrived at the famous writer’s elegant dacha outside Moscow. There, the famous writer entertains a professor of cinema, as well as a neighbor, the head of the literary department in the State Publishing House, a man who “held the reins of the whole of literature in his hands….”

In the posh dacha, the men also enjoy some apricot jam, but it is just one minor trapping amid the surrounding opulence as they speak in praise of Comrade Stalin, socialist realism, and how “Creating an art of world significance–that is the task of the writer today.” The apricot jam briefly figures into their discussion as a symbol for a type of  “amber transparency” that “should be present in literary language, as well.” 

Soon, the famous writer mentions the unusual letter he has received from the exiled, starving worker. And, as they discuss its text, their final analysis of it is devastating.

In the story “The New Generation,” a principled and disciplined engineering professor finally gives in to pleadings by a failing student and hands him a passing grade. The professor is, after all, under orders to “make allowances” for the students now being sent to him from factories, some of whom would be “better off making pots and pans” rather than being forced to become engineers.

 Two years later, in the second part of the story’s binary structure, the engineering professor is arrested, and his interrogator from the GPU (the State Political Directorate) is none other than the failing student who had talked him into a passing grade. The ex-student cannot undo the professor’s arrest, yet he can and does, as a sort of return favor, offer him three grim choices of fates. 

Solzhenitsyn served with distinction as a captain in the Red Army during World War II, but was arrested after he wrote a letter that included disparaging remarks about Josef Stalin’s leadership of the war effort. The writer spent the next eight years in Soviet labor camps and another three years in internal exile.

Much of his fiction in Apricot Jam and Other Stories draws its creative spark from his grim wartime and Gulag experiences. Yet some of the stories also deal with post-Soviet issues in the times of Yeltsin and Gorbachev. For example, in the concluding story, “Fracture Points,” characters face the difficulty of trying to adapt to new freedoms and new economic structures at a time when “[t]he word ‘privatize’ was as frightening as a sea monster.”

If you have never before read any Solzhenitsyn, Apricot Jam and Other Stories can be a good introduction that may inspire you to also delve into his earlier works of fiction, particularly the ones that brought him the Nobel Prize for Literature 41 years ago.

This new book, translated by “TK” and published by Counterpoint, demonstrates once again why Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn continues to deserve his ranking as one of the world’s great writers.

 — Si Dunn

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