Monthly Archives: December 2011

Resolutions for the New Year

Hey, happy new year! Today is the day set aside to recover from last night, watch football and make resolutions. I’ve got a few of my own for my blog. 2011 was a great year for Latino literature but, with just a few exceptions, most of the books I reviewed were by male authors. So I’m declaring 2012 year of the Latina writer. Each month, I’ll review a classic book from a woman author. Here’s my schedule:

• January – Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

February – Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

• March – Ana Castillo, So Far From God

• April – Denise Chavez, Loving Pedro Infante

May – Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

• June – Cristina García, Dreaming in Cuban

• July – Lorraine López, The Realm of Hungry Spirits

• August – Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising

• September – Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican

• October – Michele Serros, Chicana Falsa

• November – Alisa Valdes, The Dirty Girls Social Club

• December – Helena Maria Viramontes, Under the Feet of Jesus

As you’ve probably noticed, I didn’t include some prominent writers. I’ve read most of Sandra Cisneros’s books, and I hope she will have a new book out soon that I can review. I also decided not to include academic Gloria Anzaldúa or poet Gabriela Minstral because I wanted to focus on novels or memoirs. I do plan to profile them on their birthdays, as I did for Cisneros.

Besides reading these books, I also hope to attend more plays for my “At the Theater” feature (which I kicked off last month with 26 Miles) and cover lectures by authors (I have tickets to a Luis Alberto Urrea talk in January). Of course, with all resolutions, things don’t always they turn out as planned, so all items are subject to change. I’ve also decided to scale back on my postings from three times a week to twice a week to make things a little easier on myself (and get to work on my own novel). I’m also in the midst of moving the headquarters of The Hispanic Reader, so I’m giving myself a break for a couple of weeks. See you in 2012!

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Best of 2011

At the end of the year, critics, bloggers and anyone else who wants to makes their own “best of” list, so I decided to make my own Latino literature favorites for 2011. Keep in mind that I started my blog in August, so I missed out on some books, such as Lorraine López’s The Realm of Hungry Spirits and Jon Michaud’s When Tito Loved Clara, and I’m keeping the list to just five books instead of the usual ten. Here are the books I loved the most from 2011:

• Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name was a riveting love story – loosely based on his own marriage to writer Aura Estrada – that covered the beginning of their relationship to her death in a swimming accident. This book will break your heart.

• Héctor Tobar’s The Barbarian Nurseries was a fast-paced, unputdownable novel about an undocumented maid who is thrust in the middle of an immigration debate when she is left alone with her boss’s children. The book has great description, strong characters and terrific observations about politics. It’s a shame this book didn’t receive more attention.

• Although I consider myself an avid reader, how did I not discover the awesomeness that is Luis Alberto Urrea until this year? I absolutely loved his 2005 book The Hummingbird’s Daughter, a funny, beautiful novel about a woman who discovers her healing powers in revolutionary Mexico. Her father, Don Tomas, just may be one of the best literary characters ever. The 2011 sequel, Queen of America, shows Teresita coping with her success. The tone is more somber than Daughter and there’s not enough Don Tomas, but the book is still pretty terrific.

• Sergio Troncoso wrote two books this year – a book of essays, Crossing Borders, and a novel, From This Wicked Patch of Dust – both of which draw on his experiences of living on the Texas-Mexico border. I liked Borders for its riveting essays on family dynamics and relationships – and it’s unusual to see a male author talk about work-life balance. His works deserve a larger audience.

• Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa’s Becoming Dr. Q is a fascinating look at one man’s journey from an undocumented immigrant from Mexico to one of the top brain surgeons in the United States.

I also liked Justin Torres’s We the Animals, Dagoberto Gilb’s Before the End, After the Beginning and Lyn Di Iorio’s Outside the Bones. For my non-Latino books, I loved Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

What were your favorite 2011 books? Post in the comments.

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Book review: Maria Dueñas’s “The Time in Between”

In Maria Dueñas’s novel, The Time in Between, Sira Quiroga goes from humble dressmaker to World War II spy in just a few years. The transformation is a mostly fascinating and sometimes frustrating tale.

The book begins in 1935 in Madrid, where Sira is, as one character describes her, a “young dressmaker filled with tenderness and innocence,” and engaged to a civil servant. But, she says, “a typewriter shattered my destiny.” While visiting an office supply store, she meets and eventually falls in love with another man. She moves with him to Morocco with the promise that they will start their own business. But, through a series of rather unpleasant surprises, Sira has to return to her sewing skills as a means of survival. She makes friends with several people on the social scene, and she returns to Madrid to design clothes for the wives of German Nazis – and tries to find out about their husbands’ plans as World War II begins to brew.

Sira’s means of spying is one of several clever twists in the book – and Sira goes through plenty of life-changing events that will elicit a few gasps. Like any spy novel, the book has its share of intrigue and coincidences. But I wish the 600-page book, which was translated by Daniel Hahn, had more dialogue and shorter paragraphs. Although Dueñas writes beautifully, the book dragged at times and needed a faster pace. I also wished two of the more colorful characters – her feisty landlord, Candelaria, and a fun next-door-neighbor, Félix – had stuck around longer.

Still, Sira makes a strong feminist character and, although the ending doesn’t suggest a sequel, I’d read a series of her spy adventures. And if we can’t get that, can we get a movie starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem?

More about María Dueñas:

Dueñas, a professor in Spain, based some of the characters on real life people involved in World War II. She talked about the book to Publishers Weekly when it came out earlier this fall.

Source: I checked the book out from my local library.

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Happy birthday, Manuel Puig!

The Argentine author was born on this day in 1932 and died in Mexico in 1990. His 1976 novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman, may be one of the most famous pieces of Latino literature of the last 50 years.

The book – about a gay man and a revolutionary who are trapped in prison together – was not well read when it was first released. But it won some major awards, and Puig adapted it into a stage play. Spider Woman was made into a 1985 movie starring Sonia Braga, Raul Julia and William Hurt, who won an Academy Award for his role. It was also made into a Broadway musical that won numerous Tony Awards in 1993, including Best Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Chita Rivera.

His other books include 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Here’s a collection of New York Times articles about Puig.

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Happy Birthday, Juan Ramón Jiménez!

The Spanish poet was born Christmas Eve in 1881 and died in 1958. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956, one of only a dozen Latinos to earn that honor. He was born in Moguer i Andalusia, Spain, but he went on to live in the United States, Cuba and Puerto Rico after the Spanish Civil War.

His best known book of poetry, Platero y Yo, describes his native Moguer i Andalusia through the eyes of a villager and his burro.

Here’s a great biography from The Poetry Foundation, which also includes some of his poems. Or check out these You Tube videos devoted to his work.

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In the news: Best of 2011, La Casa Azul bookstore, World Book Night

Best of 2011

• Here’s some more Best of 2011 lists: Entertainment Weekly put Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name on its Top 10 Fiction list. Barnes and Noble picked When Tito Loved Clara, by Jon Michaud, about a Dominican Republican woman trying to settle in New Jersey when her old lover returns.

• Sergio Troncoso’s From This Wicked Patch of Dust and Richard Yanez’s Cross Over Water both earned spots on the Southwest Books of the Year by the Pima County Library in Tucson, Arizona. Two books by Rudolfo Anaya made the list – La Llorona: The Crying Woman and Randy Lopez Goes Home: A Novel, as did the children’s book, Juan Verdades: The Man Who Couldn’t Tell a Lie / El hombre que no sabia mentir by Joe Hayes.

• Rigoberto Gonzalez made his list of the best Small Press books, including Chulito by Charles Rice-González.

Body art by Mia Roman. Photographed by Johnny Ramos.

Bookstores

• Congratulations to Aurora Anaya-Cerda, left, who plans to open La Casa Azul bookstore in East Harlem in the spring. Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Daily News wrote articles about the bookstore, which was funded through a donation drive.

World Book Night

• Junot Diaz’s awesome The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was chosen as one of 30 novels that will given out for World Book Night April 23. You can apply to be a book giver here.

New releases:

All Yours, a paperback crime novel by Argentine Claudia Piñeiro, came out last week.

Interesting:

In this article in The Guardian, Spanish novelist Lucía Etxebarria announced this week she would stop writing because she opposes the downloading of books. Brazilian Paulo Coehlo has taken a different view, allowing readers to download his books in some countries, according to this New York Times story published in the fall.

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Happy Birthday, Sandra Cisneros!

Sandra Cisneros, arguably the most popular Hispanic writer in the United States, turns 57 years old today. Cisneros has won acclaim for her stories and poems that depict the Latina experience in America.

The House on Mango Street, which follows a year in the life of young Esperanza Cordero, was published in 1984. The book is now required reading in many classrooms and was featured in PBS’s 2007 series The American Novel – the only book by a Latino author to earn that distinction. Women Hollering Creek and Other Stories, published in 1991, is a collection of stories following the lives of Latinas (including one called Rosario “Chayo” De Leon – great last name!). Her 2002 book, Carmelo, follows one family’s summer trip from Chicago to Mexico. She’s also published books of poetry and children’s books.

Cisneros has founded The Macondo Foundation, an organization for writers. But, as this Texas Observer article notes, she has found it challenging to write and run the foundation at the same time, and she plans to move from San Antonio to New Mexico.

Cisneros is working on book called Writing in My Pajamas, but no release date has been set. Until then, check out some of her clips on YouTube, where she talks about writing and her books.

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At the theater: Quiara Alegria Hudes’s “26 Miles”

DeAnna Gonzales and Georgia Marshelle Phillips played Beatriz and Olivia in the 26 Miles production by Artes de la Rosa of Fort Worth. They were fantastic. (Photo courtesy Adam Adolfo.)

“At the Theater” is a new feature in which I will check out plays by Latino authors. The article is intended to be a look at the author’s work and not a review of the theatrical production – so no comments about acting, lighting or staging. I saw the Fort Worth-based Artes de la Rosa’s production of the play.

Quiara Alegria Hudes knows how to make a heart laugh – and then break it to pieces.

Audiences who see 26 Miles will experience those emotions when they see her play, which was first performed in 2008 and has been produced all around the country. In fact, two Dallas-Fort Worth theater companies put on the play within weeks of each other this month.

26 Miles tells the story of Beatriz, a temperamental Cuban secretary living in Philadelphia, and her troubled daughter, Olivia, 15, who has lived with her white father in suburbia since she was six years old. On the spur of the moment, Beatriz kidnaps Olivia and they take a road trip together.

Along the way, Beatriz teaches her daughter five words in Spanish a day. Olivia reveals her dreams and fears – mostly to the audience, sometimes to her mother – in her writings. They both must deal with the men they left behind – Beatriz’s husband, Manual; Olivia’s father, Aaron – through awkward phone calls and messages.

The road trip is a bit of a cliché. It’s been used in countless plays, movies and books as a metaphor for life. And the characters are stereotypes – Beatriz is the emotional Latina; Olivia is the typical moody teenager. But Hudes brings up touchy subjects – bullying, cultural identity and marital woes – in a natural, not contrived, manner and the dialogue sounds like everyday conversation. The well-paced play brings plenty of laughs, which makes the climax so much more dramatic.

There’s a reason why 26 Miles has been produced so frequently – it packs a great deal of emotion and life in 90 minutes.

More about Quiara Alegría Hudes:

Hudes, who is half-Puerto Rican, is also the playwright of the 2008 Tony-award winning musical In the Heights. She has also been a finalist for the Pultizer Prize Award twice, for Heights and Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue.

26 Miles: If you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, you still have Friday-Sunday to check the play Artes de la Rosa’s production at the Rose Marine Theater in Fort Worth. Tickets cost $12 for students and seniors and $18 for adults, plus service charges.

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In the News

Year in Review: Junot Díaz and Justin Torres recommended their favorite books of 2011 to New York magazine, while Héctor Tobar and Torres gave their choices for the year’s best in Salon and Julia Alvarez revealed her picks to the Algonquin Books blog. Book editor Marcela Landres made her own best of 2011 list, including Outside the Bones by Lyn Di Iorio and Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. The Washington Post cited Esmeralda Santiago’s Conquistadora and Justin Torres’s We the Animals as some of its favorite 2011 novels. But why stop at 2011? Dagoberto Gilb named his favorite books of all time in The Week magazine.

New releases: A paperback of Purgatory by the late Tómas Eloy Martinez, who was born in Argentina and lived in Venezuala, was released last month.

• A library in honor of Mexican writer Juan Jose Arreola is being constructed in Mexico City, with the opening expected for spring 2012. The library organization Reforma posted some pictures of the building on their Facebook page.

• According to this BBC article, the remains of legendary Nobel winning poet Pablo Neruda, pictured at left, have been asked to be exhumed to see if he was poisoned.

• Luis Alberto Urrea appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered to talk about his latest novel, Queen of America, which he describes as his “Lady Gaga book.”

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‘Tis the season: Christmas books for children

Children are a big reason for celebrating Christmas. If you want to add some books to their stockings, here’s a good list (definitely not definitive) of Latino-themed reads about the holidays:

• The Night of Las Posadas, a 1999 book by Tomie dePaola, tells the story about a local community trying to present the reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey through Bethlehem. Pam Munoz Ryan’s 2005 book There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve is another story about the nativity.

• The Gift of the Poinsettia, a 1995 book by Pat Mora and Chris Ramírez Berg, depicts a young boy’s quest to get the perfect gift for the baby Jesus. Mora also wrote A Piñata in a Pine Tree: A Latino Twelve Days of Christmas.

• Puerto Rican author Eric Velasquez won a Pura Belape award for his 2011 book, Grandma’s Gift, about a young boy creating the perfect Christmas present for his grandmother.

• Alma Flor Ada, who is of Cuban descent, has written several Christmas books, including The Christmas Tree/El Arbol de Navidad and Celebrate Christmas and Three Kings Days with Pablo and Carlitos (with F. Isabel Campoy).

Growing Up with Tamales/ Los tamales de Ana by Gwendolyn Zepeda in 2009 depicts a great Hispanic Christmas tradition.

• And, finally, the 2008 Charo Claus and the Tejas Kid by Xavier Garza, gives a South Texas twist to the Christmas tale.

Got another great Christmas book to recommend? Make suggestions in the comments.

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