Tag Archives: Arte Publico

Book Review: Lyn Di Iorio’s “Outside the Bones”

If Kinsey Millhone or Stephanie Plum were Puerto Rican brujas, they’d be just like Fina, the lead character of Lyn Di Iorio’s first novel Outside the Bones (Arte Publico Press).

Like those smartass, crime-solving creations of Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich, Fina uses her wits and attitude when she finds herself entangled in a murder mystery. But unlike many mysteries, Bones features mostly Hispanic characters and uses Afro-Carribean rituals as a mystery-solving device.

Fina is a New York City clerk who has a crush on her neighbor, musician Chico de León (another character with that great last name!). She puts a fufú, or curse, on him that goes badly – and leads to Fina to investigate Chico’s mysterious past in Puerto Rico, where his infant daughter and wife died while he was having an affair. Then his mistress and a woman claiming to be Chico’s daughter show up. So Fina enlists her “badass Godfather in the magic arts,” Tata Victor Tumba Fuego, to help conjure up spirits that may help solve the mystery. And then things start getting crazy.

The book gets its strength from Fina’s voice. If you don’t like attitude, bad grammar and foul language, you won’t like her. But then you would be deprived of such great lines as this, when Fina is taking a rooster to be sacrificed by Tata Victor: “Animal blood is the offering favored by the nkisis and nfuiris. And I understand the primitive principle behind it all. Blood is the most sacred form of energy, and when the spirits drink they become enlivened to help us in this world. But shit, we ain’t on the island no more, we don’t sacrifice in the mountains of Africa or Cuba; we do it in our apartments. Can’t we substitute and modernize a little with the other aspects of the religion? Streamline and make it more up to date?”

Even if you’re skeptical of the supernatural or the plot, Fina may make a believer out of you.

More about Lyn Di Iorio:

• Di Iorio talked to The Hispanic Reader about the inspiration for her book and how to encourage more people to get into Latino literature.

• Di Iorio will make several appearances for her book, including tonight at the Barnes and Noble at New York City’s Upper West Side.

• Di Iorio talked to the New York Daily News about Afro-Caribbean religions.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Fiction

In the news

• New on the bookshelves: Kami Garcia’s latest book, Beautiful Chaos, part of her Beautiful Creatures series written with Margaret Stohl, comes out Tuesday. Cain, a retelling of the Biblical story from the late, Nobel Prize-winning novelist José Saramago, was released earlier this month.

• The Texas Book Festival, which runs from Saturday-Sunday in Austin, will feature 250 authors, and it features some great programs with Latino authors:

Dagoberto Gilb (pictured at right) will discuss his latest book, Before the End, After the Beginning.

Mary Romero, author of the non-fiction The Maid’s Daughter: Living Inside and Outside the American Dream, and Héctor Tobar, author of The Barbarian Nurseries, will discuss Mexican women working as maids in the United States.

Sarah Cortez, René Saldaña, Jr., Sergio Troncoso and Gwendolyn Zepeda will talk about the mysteries they contributed to the Arte Publico Press book for young adults, You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens.

Alex Sanchez (pictured at left), author of Bait, will receive the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award.

Troncoso and Richard Yanez will discuss stories from their hometown of El Paso. Kami Garcia, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith and Justin Torres will speak at other sessions.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Awards, Events, News

Meet novelist Lyn Di Iorio

Some people fear Afro-Caribbean religions. But Lyn Di Iorio is intrigued by them – so much so that her first book, Outside the Bones, focuses on the mysterious practices. Her novel was released last month by Arte Público Press.

Di Iorio, who was raised in Puerto Rico, teaches English with a focus on Caribbean and U.S. Latino literature at The City College of New York and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, her master’s degree from Stanford University and her Ph.D. from The University of California at Berkeley. 

Q: Tell me about your book, Outside the Bones.

Outside the Bones is a provocative tale of love, murder and mystery steeped in the Afro-Caribbean religio-magical practice of Palo Monte. When the irrepressible, street-toughened, but ultimately tender-hearted main character, Fina, falls in love with her upstairs neighbor, Chico the hot trumpet player, she does what any ghetto bruja would do–takes his picture intending to put a spell on him.  Her spell misfires and two strange women competing for Chico’s favors show up. Fina then ups the ante by asking the powerful Spanish Harlem Palero, Tata Victor Tumba Fuego, for help. All too soon Fina finds herself involved with a spirit whose quest for revenge can’t be stopped. Mixing humor, eroticism and Afro-Latino/a spiritual history, Outside the Bones takes readers on a rollicking, hair-raising, and ultimately redemptive journey through New York City’s Upper West Side, Central Park and Puerto Rico. Fina finds answers that uncover the mystery behind a murder but, more importantly, reveal things about her past she had never suspected.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

For one, reading so many great writers. As a child, I loved classic works such as the novels of Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and so many other writers from all over the world, but I also loved mysteries by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Dick Francis, and others. When I was a teenager, I started reading work by Puerto Rican and Caribbean women writers that really woke up my eyes to the magical and mysterious world that is the Caribbean. I was also always really fascinated by the fact that the Afro-Caribbean religions were regarded with fear by most of the people I knew growing up. Or, on the other hand, people negated their existence altogether.  But the more I discovered about them, the more they fascinated me. I think, in general and this applies beyond my interest in Afro-Caribbean religio-magical practices, I am really intrigued by surfaces that seem commonplace with little cracks or flaws and, the more you explore the cracks, the more you see that the apparently commonplace surfaces are just facades behind which lie completely different realities.

Q: You’re a professor specializing in Latino literature. What can we do to encourage more people to read Hispanic literature?

Well, I think the publishing world needs to recognize that there is a large population of Latino readers with diverse tastes and interests and that they may not be tapping that diversity. Some Latino readers don’t want to read books that are about growing up Latino because they feel they know that, they lived it; they want to read mysteries, for example, not coming of age stories, and would like to read mysteries with Latino characters or that have strong Latino ambiences. I also think that works by Latino writers should be taught not just in Latino and Caribbean literature classes, but in all kinds of literature classes ranging from American literature to classes with more thematic focuses.

Di Iorio is making several appearances in support of her book, including Oct. 24 at the Barnes and Noble in New York City’s Upper West Side. Click here for more information.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Author Q&A, Fiction

Tough crowd

School will start soon, and many Hispanic teenagers will be stuck reading about white people again.

When I taught English at a high school with a predominantly Hispanic population, I struggled to get my students to enjoy any type of book. But it was even tougher to find young adult books with Hispanic characters. Of course, Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street and Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima are part of the canon. When students were looking for books for independent reading, I steered students toward Gary Soto’s novels – and then I had to recommend non-Hispanic authors.

It’s crucial to get young Hispanics to read. In 2009, 17 percent of Hispanics dropped out of high school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Hispanics had the highest dropout rate for any ethnic group, although the rate has been decreasing each year.

Here are a few good resources for finding Hispanic-oriented young adult fiction:

• Houston–based publisher Arte Publico has its own young adult section, which includes You Don’t Have a Clue: Latin Mystery Stories for Teens, a book of 18 short stories, according to AARP VIVA.

• The American Library Association lists several Hispanic-themed books in its 2010 Best Books for Young Adults, including David Hernandez’s No More Us for You and Matt de la Pena’s We Were Here.

• The Austin Public Library’s Connected Youth website features a great list of Hispanic-oriented books for young adults.

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Filed under Fiction, Young Adult Books