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Category Archive for 'Mexico'

In this dramatic and thought-provoking novel, Edmundo Paz Soldan, a Bolivian writer, displays his enormous gifts of both narrative and character development while also examining serious themes and social and psychological problems. Creating three characters from three different time periods, all of whom are native to Mexico or South America and all of whom are in the US for various reasons and for various periods of time, Paz Soldan explores their lives and creates comparisons and contrasts before making connections among them. Jesus, a young man from Northern Mexico in 1984, is a boy/man who responds impulsively to situations as they arise in his life and does not hesitate to be violent. In contrast to Jesus, Michelle, a graduate student in South Texas who appears as the second main character, is working hard to establish herself as a writer/cartoonist working on a comic book about a librarian with special powers who is bent on revenge. The third main character is Martin Ramirez, living illegally in Stockton, California, in 1931, trying to pay off some debts and help his family back in Mexico by working as a migrant worker. Paz Soldan rotates the action through these three characters’ lives, developing themes as he goes, and the reader cannot help but become involved both in the action of their lives and in the psychological crises they face. All are dealing with issues of identity and a sense of belonging/ . One becomes a killer. Throughout the novel, the author shows the inner conflicts of people who are from one country but live in another, exploring their personal predicaments, their sense of displacement or their sense of hope.

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One out of Two, an early (1994) novel by award-winning Mexican author Daniel Sada, has just been published in English translation for the first time – a tragicomic classic by an author whom both Roberto Bolano and Carlos Fuentes have highly praised for his “contributions to literature in the Spanish language.” It joins Almost Never (2008) as one of only two books by Sada available in English, to date. Though the book appears, at first, to be a simple morality tale, Sada is an adventurous novelist who endows his main characters with more than the flat, stereotypical behaviors and thoughts which one usually associates with stories written to illustrate a moral lesson. While keeping his style uncomplicated, he shows his characters as they live their ordinary lives and make some remarkable decisions which cause unexpected complications for them. The mood is light and the action often very funny, though equally often, it is ironic or edgy. The cumulative result is farcical rather than pedantic, serious rather than lightweight. The story revolves around a pair of forty-year-old identical twins who are invited to a wedding which only one can attend, and she meets a suitor. What the twins do to meet their joint needs becomes the focus of this farcical but sensitive novella with a surprising ending.

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“On a Sunday evening, I went with some colleagues to an auction of contraband memorabilia in a karaoke bar in Little Havana…I had no intention of blowing my check, but, without the least warning, the god of tiny details set paradise before me…Right there, in the depth of the Sunday solitude of a Little Havana auction I found them: my new teeth…the sacred teeth of none other than [Hollywood diva] Marilyn Monroe…slightly yellowed.”—Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez, or “Highway.”

If that quotation does not pique your curiosity with its absurdity, the succeeding images may. As soon as Highway returns from Cuba to Mexico, he contacts the “best cosmetic dental clinic” in Mexico City and has “each of the teeth belonging to the Venus of the big screen transplanted into [his] mouth,” though he does save ten of his old teeth, the best-looking ones, for later, “just in case.” For months afterward, he walks around Mexico City smiling at his appearance in reflections, celebrating his good luck, and believing that “[his] life was a poem.” And this is just the beginning of a serious look at the connections between life, art, and literature.

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In a novel which defies genre, author Horacio Castellanos Moya takes paranoia to new and often darkly humorous heights as an unnamed speaker, a journalist who has been living in exile in Mexico, tries to fulfill his dream of returning to his home in El Salvador, now that that country is beginning to seem less dangerous after its many coups. The author’s real-life experience gives verisimilitude to the speaker’s story, and his sense of perspective regarding his own life allows him to depict the excesses of the speaker’s chronic over-analyzing and unproductive dithering with kind of humor rare for a novel about revolutions and revolutionaries. Castellanos Moya himself lived through many events similar to those affecting the speaker. His first novel, known in English as Senselessness, became a controversial success for its unvarnished depiction of the genocide of Mayan Indians, and when the author’s mother received an anonymous death threat aimed at him, the author went into self-imposed exile in Mexico for ten years. Of the four novels by Castellanos Moya which have been translated into English, this is the lightest, and though it has some serious ideas, it is also the funniest and most seductively involving. Translator Katherine Silver, who keeps the stream-of-consciousness style running nonstop in colloquial English, also makes the details so lively that the story is both compelling and full of fun.

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In this truly unique novel, so surprising and so exhilarating that I read it twice during the past week, I came to know, in a very real way, an author whose currently unwritten new novels I can hardly wait to discover in the future. Valeria Luiselli, a debut novelist, left me stunned the first time I read this novel, though I was excited by her daring approach to writing and awe-struck at her ingenuous and totally honest inclusion of herself, for better and worse, in all phases of the narrative. By the time I had read it a second time, I was even more impressed by her ability to jump around and make herself at home within three different time periods while telling multiple, somewhat connected stories from four different points of view – that of her contemporary self, of her earlier self before her marriage, of her architect husband, and of Gilberto Owen, a virtually unknown Mexican author-poet from the late 1920s whose work the unnamed main character is trying to have published. None of these points of view are static, and the author sometimes merges characters and the details of their lives as she plays with reality and imagination, which she sees as both an outgrowth of reality and as an influence on reality. Fact and fiction become charmingly and often humorously combined in this novel about all aspects of the writing process as the author recreates herself both within her characters and within her own life. It is an amazing journey for the reader.

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