‘Tis the season for family gatherings, holiday parties and competitive shopping. If you prefer to celebrate Christmas with some good page turner, here are some Latino-themed books:
• Alisa Valdes’ 2010 book The Three Kings is a “Christmas dating story” about one woman’s quest to find love during the holiday season.
• In Pulitzer Prize-winner Oscar Hijuelos’s 1995 novel, Mr. Ives’ Christmas, a man struggles with life and his belief in God after his son is murdered on Christmas. PBS’s Ray Suarez gave a review of the book to NPR, which includes an excerpt.
• Twenty-five Latino authors, including Junot Diaz and Esmeralda Santiago, share their favorite holiday stories and recipes in the 1999 book, Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories.
• In the 2007 book Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan, Manny DeLeón has to close down the Red Lobster he manages in New Britain, Connecticut, as a blizzard comes down four nights before Christmas. O’Nan talked about writing about a Latino character and gives a shout-out to Luis Alberto Urrea here.
And if you’re in more of a movie mood, Nothing Like the Holidays depicts a dysfunctional Puerto Rican family celebrating the holidays. The 2008 movie stars John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodríguez, Elizabeth Peña and Alfred Molina. I’m partial to the 2003 movie Love Actually, which has a mostly British cast but features Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro and Portuguese actress Lúcia Moniz.
Coming up on Thursday: Christmas books for children.
A few years ago, I read three books for one selfish reason – the characters had the same last name as me.
My last name, DeLeon, isn’t common, so it was exciting to see my name in print. The first of these books, Rick Riordan’s 2006 Mission Road, featured a character named Ana DeLeon who was tangled up in the investigation of an unsolved murder. Mission Road, unlike Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, isn’t particularly memorable, but the other two DeLeon books are awesome.
The most famous of these books is Junot Diaz’s 2008 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The lead character, Oscar DeLeon, is a misfit whose Dominican-American family suffers a curse brought on by a former dictator from their homeland. This funny book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, with Diaz becoming the second Hispanic to receive that honor.
But my personal favorite DeLeon character comes from Stewart O’Nan’s 2008 Last Night at the Lobster, which depicts Manny DeLeon’s last day on the job as manager of a New England Red Lobster on a snowy day. DeLeon is just an ordinary guy living an ordinary life, but his sense of decency makes him one of those characters that you wish you had as a friend. I’m proud to share the same last name as him.
Hispanics are frequently seen on popular TV shows and movies – but hardly on the pages of best-selling novels.
Sure, bookstores will devote some space to Hispanic writers. But you don’t see them as characters in mainstream fiction, even though Hispanics account for nearly 16 percent of the United States population and are one of the country’s fastest-growing ethnic groups, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Because I’m a nerd, I write down the books I read. When I look back at my list of books I’ve read in recent years, I found only a handful of books featuring Hispanic characters – the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz; Rick Riordan’s thriller, Mission Road; and the wonderful Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan – and those books’ main characters shared the same last name as me (which will be the topic of an upcoming post).
People of color are often absent from mainstream books. When I read Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, I was happily surprised to see that the main character was of Indian descent, not the same old white girl that occupies many novels.
I want to see more Hispanic characters.
So what am I going to do about it? I’m working on a novel featuring a Hispanic woman in the lead role. I still have a lot of work to do before I finish that book, so I created this blog about Hispanic literature. I’ll be reviewing classic and mainstream books with Hispanic characters; spotlighting Hispanic writers; and analyzing the role of Hispanics in literature. Join me.