Monthly Archives: October 2013

Book review: Daniel Alarcón’s “At Night We Walk in Circles”

AtNightWeWalkinCirclesIn the Daniel Alarcón novel At Night We Walk in Circles (Riverhead), Nelson is a young man who decides to jolt his life by joining a political theater troupe that tours an unnamed South American country. The experiences changes his life in ways he could not imagined. Or, as the narrator, puts it: “And that is when the trouble began.”

Nelson seems to come to life as he performs in the play with Henry Nuñez, a former political prisoner, and Patalarga, a theater operator. Both men are a generation older than Nelson and hope to revive  political activism in the country through their performances.

“What, Henry argued, is a play without an audience? Isn’t a script simply potential energy until that magical moment when it becomes something more? Isn’t alchemy like that only possible when the words are made real, when the actors step out from behind the curtain (or the tarp, in this case) and perform?

But Nelson is saddened by some big news given by an ex-girlfriend that he still pines for. Then the trio  stops in one small town and Henry meets with a family who once played a significant part in his part — and Nelson ends up having to give the greatest performance of his life.

The reader knows Nelson is doomed. The narrator — who has a small connection to Nelson and the story — foreshadows the events that kept me riveted and wanted to know what happened.

Circles is an excellent read thanks to Alarcón’s artful plotting, beautiful writing and astute observations.

Daniel AlarconMore about Daniel Alarcón: Alarcón, a native of Peru, also is the author of War by Candlelight and Lost City Radio. He also runs the Radio Ambulante podcast.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Let’s play Lotería!: Books about the classic Mexican game

The game of Lotería is hot this year. The game is similar to American bingo, but uses images — such as el gallo and la dama —  instead of numbers and letters. This year, Mario Alberto Zambrano won acclaim with his book Lotería, earning the cover of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels of 2013. Then the Texas-based fast food chain Taco Cabana co-opted it for a promotion, and Texas artist Karina Garza used the cards as inspiration for a political poster for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. But the game always has been a classic in Mexican households — and a popular subject for Latino writers. Here are some books featuring the game:

PlayingLoteria• In the 2005 children’s book Playing Lotería/El Juego De La Lotería by René Colato Laínez, a young boy learns to speak Spanish and grows closer to his abuela when he visits her and starts learning the riddles in the lotería cards.

LoteriaCardsandFortunePoems• Poet Juan Felipe Herrera created poems for each card and artist Artemio Rodriguez created contemporary lithographs as illustrations for the 2001 book Loteria Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives.

Loteria by Stavans, Villegas• The 2004 gift book ¡Loteria! features an essay about the culture of the game by noted Mexican-American scholar Ilan Stavans and illustrations by Teresa Villegas. Villegas’s website has a great section about the game, including its history.

LoteriaRubenMendozaCarambaNineMarieMartinezLotería and Other Stories by Rubén Mendoza is a 1998 collection of short stories structured around the game. In the 2005 novel ¡Caramba¡ by Nina Marie Martinez, the card game is used to illustrate two women’s adventures in getting a deceased father’s body back from Mexico.

Loteria• Released this year, Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano, shows how a teenager communicates about the abuse in her family through the game. Each chapter begins with a gorgeous, full color illustration, done by Jarrod Taylor, that differ from the traditional lotería game, but carry the same spirit.

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Meet Xavier Garza, author of “Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel”

Xavier GarzaXavier Garza has turned the Mexican folklore he grew up listening to from his childhood into award-winning children’s books. His newest book, Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures), out Oct. 22, is the sequel to Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller, which was named a 2012 Pura Belpre Honor Book. His other works include collections of spooky stories — Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys, Kid Cyclone Fights the Devil and Other Stories and Juan and the Chupacabras/ Juan y el Chupacabras —and the Christmas-themed Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid.

Maximilian&theBingoRematchQ: Tell me about your newest book, Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures). 

Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch is the sequel to my first book in the series — Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel. The book revolves around Max who is starting middle school. From having multiple teachers, tons of homework, no recess and dealing with eighth graders, Max quickly learns that being a sixth grader isn’t easy. Plus he has his first date ever when he takes Cecilia to the Halloween dance. Plus he has a blast from the past when, much to his dismay, his past actions from the first book come back to haunt him. To top it off he gets caught in between his tías who argue and fight like luchadores, and are vying for the queen bingo trophy at their local church. His uncle, The Guardian Angel, returns too, and he and tio Lalo are wrestling for the world tag team titles.

Q: Your books make great use of Mexican folklore — Lucha Libre, La Llorona and Chupacabras. What inspired you to write these books?

I write for the most part about things I have experienced in my life. I grew up with cucuy stories as a kid, namely books like Stories that Must Not Die and such. I grew up with lucha libre too, El Santo and Mil Mascaras.

Q: What do you hope your young readers get out of your books? 

More than anything else, I hope readers see themselves in the characters in my books. I grew up in the Valley, and such the vast majority of my stories take place in places like McAllen, Edinburg and Rio Grande City. I do this because I want kids to have a sense of familiarity in the stories that they read. Whenever I visit schools I always tell kids that each and every single one of them can write a book — that we all have cuentos, that we need to write these stories down. When they ask me what I think they should write about I tell them write about what you know. Write about what its like to be you. Write about what its like growing up in places like Donna, Mercedes and La Joya.

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Happy National Day, Spain!

Spain, the grandmotherland of Latino literature, celebrates one of its most important holidays Oct. 12 — Fiesta Nacional de España, or National Day. The European country has given the world one of the literature’s finest works and five Nobel Prize winners.

MiguelDeCervantesMiguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), a former soldier, wrote the most famous work in Latino literature — Don Quixote. The 1605 book tells of a man who pursues his wildest fantasies. It gave birth to a word (“quixotic”) and idiom (“tilting at windmills”). It also inspired a ballet and the musical Man of La Mancha, which became a 1972 movie and produced the classic song, “The Impossible Dream.”

LorcaFederico García Lorca (1898-1936) is known for his timeless plays, such as Blood Wedding and Yerma, and poetry that reflected such issues as politics, sexuality, women’s independence and domestic violence that his country was facing. He was later executed during the National Civil War.

José_Echegaray_y_Eizaguirre• Five men have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the most prestigious prize in the literary arts. They are playwrights José Echegaray, right, and Jacinto Benavente; poets Juan Ramón Jiménez and Vicente Aleixandre; and novelist Camilo José Cela. Twenty Spainards have won the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-language writers, ranging from poet Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) to its most winner, poet José Manuel Caballero Bonald.

timeinbetweencover• Contemporary Spanish writers include Maria Dueñas, author of The Time in Between; Juan Gómez-Jurado, author of The Traitor’s Emblem; Javiar Marias, author of The Infatuations; Carlos Ruíz Zafron, author of the popular Shadow of the Wind series; Javier Sierra, author of The Secret Supper and The Lady in Blue.

Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia, Poets.org

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Classic book review: Manuel Puig’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman”

Manuel PuigBefore it was an Oscar-winning movie, before it was a Broadway musical, before it was a widely produced play, there was the novel Kiss of the Spider Woman (Vintage).

Manuel Puig’s 1976 book may be better known for its incarnations as a Tony Award-winning 1993 Broadway musical, with Chita Rivera and Vanessa Williams in the title role, and Oscar-winning 1985 movie starring Sonia Braga, Raul Julia and William Hurt.

The book takes place in the 1970s in an Argentine prison. Two seemingly opposite men — Molina, a gay window dresser, and Valentin, a political dissident — are stuck together. To pass the time, Molina tells the plots of movies, comforting Valentin while he suffers from physical illness and emotional heartache from leaving his girlfriend.

The book consists mostly of dialogue, and Puig excels at writing conservations that sound natural. But I had to endure Molina’s movie plots that drag on for pages and dryly written footnotes that discuss the history of psychiatry’s view of homosexuality. I confess I skipped through some of these passages.

But Puig conveys their loneliness well, such as in this passage:

“It’s as if we were on some desert island. An island on which we may have to remain alone together for years. Because, well, outside of this cell we may have our oppressors, yes, but not inside. Here no one oppresses the other. The only thing that seems to disturb me … because I’m exhausted, or conditioned or perverted … is that someone wants to be nice to me, without asking anything back for it.”

Then the book delivers a hell of a twist — one of the prisoners may be betraying the other.

Spider Woman is a novel that tackles big issues such as homosexuality and Argentine politics. Some of it was tough to get through, but it’s easy to see how it has endured through the years and in many forms.

puigMore about Manuel Puig: The Argentine author, who was born in 1932 and died in 1990, is best known for Spider Woman, but his other books includes 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

 This book is part of my series on classic Latino novels. Up next: Jose Saramago’s Blindness.

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In the News: New releases from Zepeda, Garcia and Alarcón

October has arrived, and cooler temperatures mean a better excuse to curl up with a good book. Here’s what going on in the world of Latino literature:

FallinginLovewithPrisonersBook releases:

• Already out: Gwendolyn Zepeda’s newest book is a collection of poetry, Falling in Love with Fellow Prisoners, that details her life in the city. In the children’s book Parrots Over Puerto Rico, authors Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore connect the bird with the island’s history.

Kami Garcia/UnbreakableOct. 1: Kami Garcia’s Unbreakable, which is aimed at readers ages 12 and older, features a young girl who is haunted by paranormal activity.

Oct. 3: Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography finds Richard Rodriguez exploring the role of religion in the world.

Maximilian&theBingoRematchOct. 22: Xavier Garza’s newest children’s book is Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch: A Lucha Libre Sequel (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures), in which a sixth-grader faces several challenges in life and love.

• Oct. 31: In Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles, a young man touring with a political acting troupe finds himself caught up in his own personal drama.

Literary magazines:

The third edition of Huizache, the literary magazine produced by the University of Houston-Victoria’s Center for Mexican American Literature and Culture, comes out Oct. 15. The issue will include works by Cristina García, Juan Felipe Herrera, Domingo Martinez and Héctor Tobar. The $15 issue can be ordered online.

Book Festivals:

Oct. 5: Librofest in Houston features Sarah Cortez, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Manuel Ramos, René Saldaña Jr. and Gwendolyn Zepeda.

Oct. 26-27: The Texas Book Festival in Austin includes Monica Brown, Alfredo Corchado, Matt de la Peña, Cristina García, Kami Garcia, Xavier Garza, Manuel Gonzales, Duncan Tonatiuh and Mario Alberto Zambrano.

Writing contests:

The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies—Tejas Foco is sponsoring two contests for writers who have published fiction in 2013 that relate to the Mexican American experience in Texas. Deadline is Dec. 3.

• The new Angela Johnson Scholarship from the Vermont College of Fine Arts will offer $5,000 to writers of color pursuing the school’s master’s degree in Writing for Children & Young Adults.

Alvaro MutisOther features:

Colombian writer Alvaro Mutis, left, the winner of the Cervantes Prize, passed away last month at age 90. Here’s his obituary from the Associated Press, via the Huffington Post; a remembrance from The Guardian; and an 2001 interview with Francisco Goldman from the Bombsite website.

MananaMeansHeaven• Poet and artist Jose Montoya, a former poet laureate for the city of Sacramento, passed away last month at age 81. The Modesto Bee had a obituary, while the Sacramento Bee featured a photo gallery and an editorial.

• The Los Angeles Times ran an obituary for Bea Franco, the woman who inspired “The Mexican Girl” character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the new Tim Z. Hernandez novel Mañana Means Heaven.

MayasNotebookIsabel Allende, whose most recent novel is Maya’s Notebook, talked to The Guardian about her family and her past.

• NBC Latino profiled Monica Brown, author of Marisol Mcdonald and the Clash Bash/Marisol Mcdonald Y La Fiesta Sin Igual.

ThisIsHowYouLoseHerJunot Díaz, whose latest book This is How You Lose Her comes out Oct. 31 in a paperback deluxe edition with illustrations by Jaime Hernandez, has been featured in the Associated Press, Esquire and Salon. He also spoke to NBC Cafecito about his work with Freedom University for undocumented students.

Alisa ValdesPoet and novelist Gary Soto wrote  in the Huffington Post about why he stopped writing children’s stories.

• Novelist Alisa Valdes, left, gave her views on contemporary Latino lit to NBC Latino.

Juan Pablo Villalobos, author of Down the Rabbit Hole, was featured in the latest Granta podcast.

Mario Alberto Zambrano discussed his book Lotería to the Village Voice.

DreaminginCuban• The Cristina García novel Dreaming in Cuban was banned by an Arizona school, according to the Colorlines website. Meg Medina faced problems at one school with her book, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

• Here’s a cool way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which ends Oct. 15 — this literary flow chart from ebook publisher Open Road Media shows great Latino literature selections.

• Publishing Perspectives examined how ebooks were affecting libraries in the Spanish-speaking countries.

Also this month:

• Looking for books for Halloween? Check out these scary stories for children and these thrillers for adults.

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