From my dictionary’s defintion for elegy:
French Ã©lÃ©gie, from Latin elega, from Greek elegeia, from pl. of elegeion, elegiac distich, from elegos, song, mournful song.
This third book of poetry (and some prose) by Chicano poet, Benjamin Alire SÃ¡enz is remarkable, beautiful and mournful. It is an astounding, touching and reflective look at life on the El Paso border told by someone who was born and raised there. The book is also an homage to people, from the infamous like Pancho Villa, to Cesar Chavez, to the authorâ€™s father-in-law to JFK.
All the work bears the lyrical stamp of Mr. SÃ¡enz. He has a special knack for creating the most simple and beautiful lines on a page. I always find myself stopping to read a certain passage, a stanza again, to read it aloud just to be swept away by the sheer grace and raw power of it. Take for instance this section in his poem What Was It All For Anyway, Cesar Chavez?
It made you sound accusing and superior. Not smart
Cesar, people got nervous. People hated you
Because you spelled it out â€“ one lettuce
At a time.â€
In the prose-like American Camps, he speaks eloquently of a boy in a picture he finds in a library, a boy with intelligent eyes, behind barbed wire. He speaks of the hidden histories, obscure ethnic histories.
I loved the poem At the Grave of Pancho Villa. I especially loved the line
for a General.â€
My favorite of all the poems and to me, the most strikingly elegiac was The Blue I Loved. It was truly a lovely and haunting in its warm and vibrant imagery.
The poetry in this book is filled with rage, indignation, pride, community, righteous anger and political voice. Any Chicano worth his salt should run over to Cinco Puntoâ€™s website and buy it. Donâ€™t just buy it â€“ read it, feel it, love it and then read it again and again.
Has there ever been a character in a novel stranger, more hypnotic and more entrancing than Carmen La Coja? Not for me. Peel My Love Like an Onion is the story of Carmen La Coja or the Cripple who has a crippled leg, shriveled from polio. It doesnâ€™t stop her from pursuing her dream of becoming a Flamenco dancer, from being beautiful and seductive or from carrying herself with pride. However, when Carmen is not dancing, she loses her surety, her poise and grace.
The book is the story of Carmenâ€™s finding of herself. It is a love story as well. Carmen falls in love with a young gypsy dancer in her troupe, Manolo the nephew of Augustin, leader of the troupe and also Carmenâ€™s married lover. There is love and betrayal, bitter disappointment and loss, confusion and sexuality in this marvelous book about the unquenchable spirit that resides in Carmen La Coja.
After years of dancing, her polio returns and she is forced to stop dancing, to take odd jobs and move home with her parents. Slowly, Carmen is feeling suffocated, bereft and just as slowly she fights her way back and reclaims her life, her spirit and her identity.
Ana Castillo writes with exquisite detail. We feel every emotion and sensation. Like the onion referenced in the title, this book has layers and layers to be peeled away and tasted. Itâ€™s a powerful and strangely beautiful story that will stay with you and pop into your head at odd moments to make you smile.
This is the fourth in Martin LimÃ³nâ€™s fabulous noir detective series featuring army investigators Chicano George SueÃ±os and his partner Ernie Bascomb set in the sleazy underbelly of the Korea of the 1970â€™s. The writing is fast-paced, hard-boiled, gruff and gritty. It is direct and to the point but underneath it all there is a poignancy and haunting beauty.
In this story, George SueÃ±os meets a mad and beautiful Eurasian woman in a bar and ends up waking up in an alley missing his badge and his pistol. After a murder/robbery is committed using his gun, it is up to the pair to track down the murderers and get back the weapon to keep George from being court-martialed. The hunt to find the killers is filled with plot twists and surprises, taking the reader into the dark bars, brothels and the Korean black market all brought vividly to life. George and Ernie must also deal with the Korean police and government investigating the same crime.
It is an uncommon setting told from a clipped and fascinating viewpoint. LimÃ³n is a retired Army officer who was himself stationed in Korea.
â€œAMID THE MARKETS AND CANALS of the great city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, smack on the corner where nowadays Dolores Street runs past the Chinese restaurants and umbrella stores, Conquistador Balboa is in a rush to run an errand for the Marquis, and the Indian girl Florinda is walking to the flea market.â€
This is the first sentence in this marvelous, surreal novel by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite, one of Mexicoâ€™s well-known novelists and Cinco Puntos Press has done a marvelous thing in bringing this authorâ€™s work to the US for us to enjoy.
The book is about Florinda and her Conquistador love, Balboa who is fired from his bureaucratic job with the other conquistadores because of downsizing. The two leave to Tijuana by bus hoping to cross The Border into the Northernish Empire.
As with many couples, real life intrudes on their fairy tale. They find without the proper papers they cannot cross The Border, Florinda (Xochitl) has to live with Balboaâ€™s lisping Castillian family who treat her like a maid. Meanwhile Balboaâ€™s uncle gets him across the border stuffed into the trunk of a car while still wearing his conquistador armor.
In this bizarre and wonderful quirky novel, centuries are traversed and lives change. Florinda comes to work in a factory in Tijuana, becomes a serious shoe-aholic and learns to live on her own. Balboa starts wearing jeans and a t-shirt, loses his lisp and takes up with the fair haired waitress Maryanne before getting rounded up by La Migra. This is such a fun and well told story filled with chistes and puns. I think my favorite part was when the Conquistador gets picked up by La Migra and deported. I encourage everyone to read this book and to find more Crosthwaite in his native Spanish. Kudos to Cinco Puntos for bringing him to the light here in the Northernish Empire!
Enchantment is the story of a modern day Jewish Ukranian boy who stumbles upon a sleeping young woman covered by a lake of leaves while on an extended visit to a cousin’s farm. The boy ends up leaving to America with his parents, his father a professor of some note and his mother, a mysterious and loving woman.
The boy grows to manhood in America, a scholar like his father with a love of running. He loves running and while his parents find it strange, he finds it suits him and joins track and field. He is haunted though by his dreams of the young woman sleeping in the forest and embarks on a trip back to the Ukraine to work on his thesis of folk tales.
He returns to his cousin’s farm and one day goes to where he believes he dreamed the young beauty sleeping in the forest. To his surprise he finds her and battles a bear to get to her. It is Sleeping Beauty and he wakes her with a kiss and a promise of marriage even though he is engaged, and has left his fiancee behind in America.
What follows is a remarkable tale in which Ivan and his princess travel back in time to old Russia and battle Baba Yaga herself. It is a charming and stunning re-telling of an old fairy tale. I was completely entranced by this spell binding tale and quite surprised even though I am a long time fan of Orson Scott Card. I encourage everyone to read this incredible tale which mixes magic, time travel, folk tales and modernity. If you’re a fan of Orson Scott Card you’ll love it and if you’ve never read him, this is the book to start with.