“Without words I can’t return and easily remember and appreciate my life behind me,” Mexican-American Sergio Troncoso writes. “I can’t see the road I traveled and how much I changed. Without words, I feel as I have never existed.”
In his two recently released books, Crossing Borders: Personal Essays (Arte Publico Press) and the novel From This Wicked Patch of Dust (University of Arizona Press), Troncoso tries to bring more meaning to his life and the world.
The title of Crossing Borders comes from the fact that Troncoso’s life bridges two cultures – as a former resident of the border town of El Paso; as a husband in an interfaith marriage and as a writer who belongs to an almost all-white literary group. In the 16 essays, Troncoso tackles issues such as the drug wars, immigration and literature. But Troncoso is at his best when he gets personal.
In an unusually honest essay, he talks about an intense argument with his father. He describes how much he loathes some of his father’s characteristics, yet still loves him. He also discusses his own role as a father to two boys. He can be temperamental toward them, too, when he succumbs to the pressures of life. But he is a devoted work-at-home father who admits his career takes second place to his children. “To make a good home for my children, I have sacrificed the only thing that matters more than my family: I have novels in my head which I may or may never get a chance to write,” he says.
After reading Borders, you can find similar elements of Troncoso’s life in From This Wicked Patch of Dust, which follows an immigrant family living in El Paso through five decades. One of the characters, like Troncoso, goes to college at Harvard and becomes a writer, marries a Jewish woman who works in the finance industry and raises two sons in New York City.
The stories are told in vignettes that capture a moment in time. The book can move slowly at times and Troncoso dwells on describing things that don’t need description. (You can skip a paragraph devoted to calculating the average depth of terrain). But Troncoso avoids clichés, with one character going through an interesting and surprising transformation in the book. Troncoso is an elegant writer whose work will make readers grateful that he writes his life down.