270 pp. $16.95 hardcover
Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the editor of the MultiCultural Review. For her new novel Gringolandia, she received a work-in-progress award for a Contemporary Young Adult Novel, given by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She lives in Albany, New York, where she is active in organizations for peace, human rights, and a sustainable environment. You may read an excellent interview with Miller-Lachmann over at Latino Books Examiner.
Synopsis of Gringolandia: Daniel’s father used to play soccer, dance the cueca, and drive his kids to school in a beat-up taxi…while publishing an underground newspaper that exposed Chile’s military regime. After Papá’s arrest in 1980, Daniel’s family fled to Wisconsin. Now Daniel has a new life, playing lead guitar in a rock band and dating Courtney, a minister’s daughter. When his father is released and rejoins the family, Daniel sees what five years of prison and torture in a brutal police state have done. Papá is partially paralyzed, haunted by nightmares, and bitter about exile in “Gringolandia.” Daniel worries that Courtney’s scheme to start a human rights newspaper could bring back Papá’s past and drive him further into alcohol abuse and self-destruction. Daniel dreams of a real father-son relationship, but he may have to give up everything to save his papá’s life.
Praise for Gringolandia:
"[An] impressive novel...Miller-Lachmann skillfully incorporates elements of family drama, teen romance, and political thriller into this story of a father and son reknitting themselves into each other's lives...From the stark cover image of an empty pool used to torture victims to the intensely poignant essay that concludes the novel, this is a rare reading experience that both touches the heart and opens the mind." —School Library Journal
We have a special treat for La Bloga readers. The following is the first chapter from Gringolandia published here with permission. Enjoy!
October 23, 1980
A crash, followed by a scream, jarred him from a deep sleep.
It was his mother’s scream. Daniel threw back the covers and sat up straight.
She screamed again. Now fully awake, he heard strange voices. And footsteps that were neither hers nor his father’s.
“Where is he?” the stranger demanded.
Where is who?
“He’s not here,” she said. “Please don’t wake the children.”
“Liar!” the man shouted. The sound of a slap made Daniel tremble. He didn’t know whether to bury himself under the covers or get out of bed to defend his mother.
Muffled sobbing rose from the living room. In the apartment on the other side of his bedroom wall, a baby began to wail.
Hugging himself to stop his shaking, he tiptoed to the door and opened it a crack. The room seemed filled with soldiers, men dressed in khaki uniforms with black ski masks covering their faces. He counted four. Each wore a holster on his belt and carried a machine gun. A real gun, the kind that could kill. The men surrounded his mother, small and scared in her nightgown. Her cheek was bright red.
“Search the place,” the tallest one commanded.
A fat soldier came toward Daniel’s room. Daniel shrank against the wall behind the door. In an instant the door came apart, and a wood panel smacked his forehead. He yelped in pain.
“I got him!” the soldier shouted.
Rough hands seized Daniel by his pajamas and dragged him into the light.
“Damn! It’s his kid!”
Daniel blinked rapidly and tried to cover his eyes with his right hand, but the tall soldier grabbed both his wrists and jerked them behind his back. His feet were kicked out, and he landed on the rug with a dull thud that knocked the breath from him. Wool bristles scraped his cheek. A small, cold, hard object pressed against the side of his head. He smelled grease mixed with garlic.
“You tell us where he is, or we blow the brat away.”
For a long moment his mother said nothing.
Mamá, are they really going to kill me?
The baby wasn’t crying anymore. In the total silence, Daniel heard a click.
“The…the window,” she stammered.
The soldier removed the pistol from the side of Daniel’s head and stood. Daniel lay on the floor, struggling to catch his breath. Without his glasses, he could not read the insignia on the man’s shoulder patch, but he guessed CNI, the secret police. The man lifted his walkie-talkie from his belt and gave a rapid-fire command. “Close up all the exits to the courtyard. He climbed out the back window.”
Daniel imagined the soldiers running swiftly and silently to their posts, just like in the police shows on TV.
But they were after his father. And his father wasn’t a criminal.
His father drove a taxi. That was all Daniel knew about his work. He took Daniel and his sister, Cristina, to school in the beat-up green colectivo every morning and came home every night by suppertime.
Lying on the living room rug, he visualized his father. Tall, with gold wire-rim glasses, wavy red-brown hair, and a mustache and beard. Large gentle hands and strong arms. Even now that Daniel was eleven, almost twelve, his father could still lift him onto his shoulders to watch a fútbol game.
Maybe he can get away from them. If I hadn’t made noise…If I hadn’t gotten out of bed… Tears filled Daniel’s eyes, and he squeezed them shut.
The shattered door to the apartment swung open and slammed against the wall.
“He’s ours, boss.”
Daniel pulled himself up. In the seconds before one of the other soldiers pushed him down again, he saw three men with helmets and no masks drag his father inside. His father wore a rumpled white shirt and black pants. It looked as if he had put them on in a hurry.
“Marcelo!” Daniel’s mother screamed.
Daniel heard the thud of a fist against a body, followed by a harsh grunt.
Someone grabbed Daniel by the hair and jerked his head back. He looked up into the covered face of the tall one. The boss. The man’s eyes were black and terrifying in the shadow, and his mouth, a little round hole cut out of the mask, moved like the mouth of a robot.
“Boy, you watch this,” he snarled. “This is what happens to communists.”
The helmeted soldiers left. The tall man crouched and ground his knee into Daniel’s shoulder blades. Rough hands in his hair twisted his head back. The other three masked men pounced on Daniel’s father, aiming blows at his head and body. His glasses flew off and were crushed beneath a black boot. He fell to his knees. Blood ran down his face into his beard.
Daniel closed his eyes and tried to shut out the sound of his father coughing and choking, horrible gasps. They’re beating the life out of Papá. Someone…make them stop. When Daniel opened his eyes again, his father was on his hands and knees. A soldier’s boot struck the side of his head. He flopped onto his back and lay motionless.
“Let’s get him out of here.”
They had brought a giant canvas sack, like the equipment bag for the fútbol team, only bigger. Two soldiers rolled Daniel’s father into a ball, and a third pushed him in.
Their hands bloody, the three soldiers hoisted the bag and carried it through the door. Daniel strained to see if there was any movement in the bag, or if his father was already dead. The leader stood, grabbed Daniel by the front of his pajama shirt, and dragged him to his knees.
“You learn your lesson, boy?”
Daniel said nothing.
The man shook him and shouted, “You answer me, you little bastard!”
Daniel nodded quickly.
“Good,” the man said. “Because we live in a great country. To keep it that way, we have to get rid of subversives. Or they’ll take over and create chaos. Or another Cuba.” He paused, lips pressed together in the hole cut out of the black mask. His arm dropped to his side. “Oh, what the hell. You’re just some commie’s stupid kid.” He spat onto the carpet, shouldered his rifle, and followed the others out of the apartment.
Daniel thought he would never get up from the floor, but he found himself standing as soon as the soldiers were gone. He picked up the twisted wire frames of his father’s glasses. His mother hugged him.
“I’m sorry, Mamá,” he mumbled over and over.
“It wasn’t you. They would have found him anyway.”
“Will they kill him?”
“No, Danielito. They’re just taking him to the police station to answer some questions. He’ll be home soon.”
Daniel knew she was lying. “Did he commit some kind of crime?”
She shook her head and answered, her voice steady, “No, he didn’t. He wasn’t the one who committed the crimes.”
Daniel heard a whimper from his sister’s bedroom. His mother went inside and came out clutching seven-year-old Cristina’s hand. Tina sucked her other thumb, a ragged doll pressed to her chest.
Salty tears had dried on his mother’s cheeks. She held him and his sister tightly. Her hair was rumpled, and her face seemed suddenly older.
Daniel thought as hard as he could. If he thought about it hard enough, maybe he could make the day go away. His father would be back with them as if nothing had happened.
Take this day away, he implored God. His father had told him there was no God, but he couldn’t think of anyone else who had the authority to take back a day.
◙ Rigoberto González, an award-winning writer living in New York City, reviews C.M. Mayo's new novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books). He observes, in part:
The brief and ill-fated reign of Emperor Maximiliano and Empress Carlota in Mexico is common historical knowledge. But C.M. Mayo's detailed chronicle of that 13-month period in [her] novel "The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire" (Unbridled Books, $26.95 hardcover) sheds incredible light on the day-to-day happenings in a royal court that was doomed, from the hour of coronation, to fail.... [Mayo’s novel] is a stunning achievement, an inspired novel that steers clear of boring history lessons and instead zeroes in on the smallest epicenter -- Principe Agustin de Iturbide y Green -- to spiral out into a wondrous period, 1860s Mexico, a time of political possibility and unrest in which "persons who do not appear to share even a footprint's worth of common ground turn out to have destinies bound together in painful knots."
You may read the entire review here. We at La Bloga have one word for Catherine Mayo: ¡Brava! Remember: she blogs at Madam Mayo. Drop in and enjoy her pieces on writing and literature.
◙ The new issue of Somos Primos is now live online. Edited by Mimi Lozano, Somos Primos is "Dedicated to Hispanic Heritage and Diversity Issues" and is published by the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research. This edition is packed with interesting pieces and leads with an essay by Mercy Bautista-Olvera on the recent confirmation of the Hon. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The editor also makes this request to her readers: “We all have a book in us. Let's start preparing the chapters. If you would like me to hold on to your writing/essay for the January 2010 issue, just let me know.”
◙ Just a reminder that you can sign up for Reyna Grande’s Creative Writing Workshop.
START: Monday, August 31; Five Mondays (no class on Labor Day)
WHERE: Brooklyn & Boyle Gallery (right next to Casa 0101 on First Street)
TIME: 7:00 to 9:15 Fee: $125, with a $25 discount to Boyle Heights residents.
CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up or for more info. Note: Reyna is a remarkable novelist and wonderful teacher. I strongly recommend her workshop!
◙ Please forgive me if I share some wonderful news with you. I am delighted to announce that my new short story collection will be hitting the shelves soon:
Anywhere But L.A.: Stories
Published by Bilingual Press
157 pp. paper $16.00
Release: Fall 2009
It’s now available for pre-order from Bilingual Press, your favorite bookstore, or online.
The cover is by José Ramírez, an award-winning Los Angeles artist who received a BFA (1990) and an MFA (1993) in art from UC Berkeley. Ramírez has taught in LAUSD for many years and is currently teaching 3rd grade at Esperanza Elementary in the Pico-Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. I am honored to have his painting, "Quinto Sol," grace my cover.
"Like the cities they describe, the stories in Anywhere But L.A. shift and slide and refuse to be pinned down. Daniel Olivas is an exciting writer, whose prose rings with humor, insight, and power." -- Daniel Alarcón, author of Lost City Radio and War by Candlelight
"In this collection of short stories, Olivas gives us a vivid and honest portrait of modern Latinos as they search for their place in the world. Funny yet touching, these skillfully rendered characters remind us of our own vulnerability. Individually, the stories are punchy and sharp; collectively, the stories create a colorful mural of a thriving Latino community." -- Kathleen de Azevedo, author of Samba Dreamers
"Daniel Olivas has mastered the knack of telling intricate tales that are natural, never labored, and a genuine pleasure to read. His clever, subtle stories in Anywhere But L.A. reveal puzzling secrets and closely-kept anxieties of people who on the surface appear to be rather ordinary, simple and uncomplicated. Olivas’s impressive talent gives readers a glimpse, often uncomfortable, inside the hearts and minds of characters who are trapped, hopeful, afraid, or falling in or out of love; that glimpse drives readers to the exasperating and, ultimately, very human core of Olivas’s excellent stories." -- Manuel Ramos, author of The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz
◙ That’s all for now. So, in the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!