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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

River of Angels – An excellent tale of two families and their divided city: Los Angeles – #fiction #bookreview

 

River of Angels

Alejandro Morales

(Arte Público Press, paperback )

 

This third novel by Alejandro Morales is a compelling, evocative portrait of  two very different families whose lives become intertwined through their children, in ways both loving and tragic.

Set in the 19th and 20th centuries, River of Angels is also the story of a burgeoning U.S. city divided by a dangerous river yet   linked by bridges and marriages, as well as shifting economic, cultural and racial balances.

Los Angeles today is divided by many ethnic, political and financial lines. And these divisions have been defined not only by major currents and undercurrents in California and American history but also by the river powerfully described in Morales’s book:  El Río de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de la Porciúncula, “The River of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula.”

The completion of a bridge over that river in 1887 provided a more convenient way for people to cross from either side, the author makes clear. But the bridge also helped set discriminations into easier motion.

“Most of the Los Angeles residents and people in neighboring communities were soon enjoying the convenience the bridge offered,” Alejandro Morales writes. “Laborers who worked on the west side of the river used the bridge every day to return to their dwellings on the east side. On certain days and hours during the week, it seemed that only workers moved back and forth across the river. Mexicans, blacks and Chinese had settled in the center of the city around the old plaza. However, that was changing, and [after the bridge was built] there was a deliberate and obvious push to house Mexicans on the east side of the river. The City Council made it easier for Mexicans to buy property and build houses on the Eastside.”

Some years later, a savage storm and flooding washed away the first bridge, and two more were built. Meanwhile, as this tale of families makes clear, the growth of Los Angeles’ Anglo population continued to push and squeeze minority groups, including Mexicans, African-Americans, Chinese and Japanese, out of their homes and businesses and into other areas of the city.

“The residents of the original Mexican colonias in Los Angeles proper–near La Placita and other sections newly designated as Anglo-only–were evicted and forced to relocate to the immigrant quarters of Los Angeles that were thought of as Mexican reservations,” Morales writes. “The city’s Anglo population needed the Mexicans for labor. The Mexicans had to live near, but not among, the Anglo families.”

That segregation sets up major tensions and drama within this engrossing novel as two families from widely separate realms are forcibly pulled together.

River of Angels delivers a unique and vivid portrait of Los Angeles at some of its worst and best. At the same time, Alejandro Morales skillfully illuminates racial, cultural, political and economic tensions that can be found today in virtually any other American city, whether a river runs through it or not.

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