Thursday, November 26, 2009

Baca's First Novel Floats Like a Butterfly and Stings Like a Bee

Since finding a worn copy of "Immigrants in Our Own Land," Jimmy Santiago Baca has been one of my favorite Chicano poets, but with the publication of his first novel Baca has leapfrogged a handful of Chicano authors and broken into my mythical (in my own mind of course) pound for pound list of active Chicano scribes. Baca's novel, "A Glass of Water," is such a fitting title for such a refreshing work of literature. In a recent article in Publishers Weekly, Baca was asked about his novel and to complete the prompt, "Why I Write..." and in his response of 400 plus words Baca alluded to the intimacy he developed with the characters he had stored in his mind, and how they'd matured and ripened over time in the telling and retelling of their stories.

Without question Baca's fruits have matured and ripened as, "A Glass of Water," reads much more like a poem than a novel. The tale is about the tragedies, comedies, and histories of a family borne by Casimiro and Nopal, both of whom as a young couple survived the often perishing journey of crossing the Mexican border.

What followed were the birth of two sons, and violent death of a mother. In Nopal's absence, Lorenzo and Vito begin their search for balance in a world in flux; the latter realizing a hint of solace and fame as a pugilist while the former befriends the labors of a field worker and the heart of a beautiful young lady. And through it all, through Vito's bobbing and weaving of punches and giving punches, through Lorenzo's sun battered days in dust beaten fields, through Casimiro's stroke that struck his life, the brothers' tale had only begun.

"When I left you, all you had was a name, hugging it with your lips, my name shattering the silence of your sorrow, savoring it on your tongue because you thought I was going to return," writes Baca. "Flying through the night like an angel to sweep you up in my arms but I was taken away forever and became more of a presence to you in death than in life." How right she was, Nopal's death unraveled the lives of her boys, but in each of their twisted journeys she was never more present and alive as they would fortunately discover in the championship rounds of their brotherhood.

Jimmy Santiago Baca by KO!!!

A Glass of Water by Jimmy Santiago Baca; Grove Press, 2009
Have a Happy Thanksgiving

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