Sunday, January 31, 2010

LACC Upward Bound Students Create Giant Alebrije

Olga García Echeverría
Like many people today, I juggle several jobs to make ends meet. One of these jobs is as a part-time English instructor for the Upward Bound Program at Los Angeles City College. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Upward Bound, it's a program that can be traced back to the Civil Rights era. Born out of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty," UB offers academic support and guidance to low-income, underrepresented high school students, many of whom are the first in their families to go to college. The goal of the program is ultimately to empower students by preparing them for higher education.

During the summer, the UB program at LACC holds an intense six-week session where students either take college prep classes or make up courses they have failed. Due to increased funding cuts in education over the past decade, however, we have limited time with our students during the actual academic year. As instructors, we meet with students twice a month on select Saturdays. That's only two class sessions a month and each of our class sessions is only an hour long, so that's two hours of instruction per month. For many reasons, students' attendance also fluctuates greatly during the school year. It is not uncommon for me, for instance, to have a different group of students each Saturday. The limited class time and erratic attendance is not necessarily ideal for learning or teaching, especially when wanting to create lessons that build on each other over an extended period of time. As teachers our constant challenge is to come up with creative lessons that both engage students and offer them valuable/relevant learning in a short amount of time.

This past semester, Ozomatli, our current UB Arts & Culture teacher, led a successful art project around alebrijes. The goal--to collectively create one giant papier mache alebrije. Alebrijes were first created in Oaxaca in the 1930's by Pedro Linares, a papier mache artist. After having a series of dreams where he repeatedly saw surreal creatures made up of different animal parts, Linares put aside his traditional piñatas and masks and began creating representations of the odd creatures he saw in his dreams. He called them alebrijes, a word that came to him in his dreams as well. In short, alebrijes are brightly colored flights of imagination. An alebrije may be a creature with the body of a horse, the face of dragon, the wings of an owl and the claws of a tiger. Linares' art form was so original and captivating that it quickly spread among Mexican artisans and it eventually became internationally known. Today alebrijes are commonly seen in Mexico and they are made from a variety of materials, such as wood, clay, and papier mache.

Why bring alebrijes to Upward Bound? Ozomatli notes several reasons. To begin with, developing relationships with students and nurturing their strenghts takes time. Art can be very instrumental in this process. "I especifically chose alebrijes because I believe they are extremely complex on an artistic and psychological level. Students have the potential to deal with complex and sofiscated issues but often times they are not given the opportunity or space."

In addition, Ozomatli wanted to create a project that engaged students from beginning to end, even if it meant that different students worked on the project at different stages. "When people have a sense of success and completion," he says, "it’s easier for them to aspire to bigger and better things. Every student who worked on this project is going to feel that sense of success and completion because it was a group effort."

Ozomatli also mentions the benefits of having students be creators versus mere receptors of learning. "I gave them a general framework, but they worked on all the details. They were responsible for what type of hands, what type of feet, what type of head, what type of tail, the colors, the painting. Students purposed a lot of ideas. Some students were so excited they actually brought pictures or examples into the classroom." Another great benefit was having the students work collectively in a hands-on way. The whole project was done over a period of 4 months and "took approximately 30 hours, with students and some staff members putting in personal time outside of regular UB sessions."

Through the course of this time, students were able to witness the giant alebrije transform from an idea to a cool, colorful creature. They opted for pockadot chicken feet.

And colorful scaled butterfly wings.

The alebrije's striped crab claws reach up into the sky.
A blue-green fish tail forms the back end.

In addition to constructing and painting the collective alebrije this past semester, many of the students also wrote short creative pieces on encountering their own alebrije. They used sensory description to describe and bring to life the creature of their imagination, noting where they encountered their alebrije and any super powers the creature posses.
The students will have their giant alebrije, some of their writings, and masks from previous semesters on display this Thursday, Feb 4th 2010, at the DaVinci Gallery at Los Angeles City College at 7:00 PM. This will be UB's first-ever art exhibit. The event is open to the public. 855 North Vermont, LA 900029-3588.
Here are a few of the UB students sharing some of their thoughts about the project:
My name is Laura Gracia. I'm a junior at Hollywood High. I basically did the feet with the swirls. I also helped with the spine and the wings. I liked being able to put my ideas into the project. I liked learning about the artist in Oaxaca who had those crazy dreams. I think teenagers can relate to these strange creatures because teenagers have gotten weirder over the years.

My name is Yuriko Ortega and I'm a senior at Manual Arts High School. I have been painting the alebrije, creating patterns on the body and detailing. If I had to pick an adjective to describe our alebrije I would chose the word amazing. I've worked on the project pretty consistantly since it began and I really enjoyed this project a lot because it allows you to be creative and it brought the students together. I thought about this project even when I wasn't at the program. I wanted to be here to finish it and I also thought about making my own at home. I also wrote a short story about encountering my own strange creature. I like what I wrote.

I'm Alex Vega and I'm a senior at Walt Whitman High. In regards to my participation in the project, I helped put together the head, the ears. I helped put the wings on the body, helped build some of the claw, and I've done a lot of painting. I think this project brought us all together and I enjoyed it a lot because I'm more of a hands-on person and I learn better that way. Instead of just sitting in a room, you get to have fun with it. I had never heard about alebrijes before this project. Now I know what they are and I even wrote a creative piece on my own alebrije. For that creative piece I just let my imagination go wild and included lots of details on how my alebrije looks, how it sounds, and where it lives.

My name is Gisseli Martinez and I'm a 11th grader at West Adams. For the record I hate talking, but I will give a few of my thoughts. I particpated in the project by painting and deciding on certain colors to use on the monster. It wasn't mandatory to come to the art class so different students particpated at different times. It was good to be able to work with different students at different times. I like this type of learning because you get to actually decide what to do instead of the teacher deciding everything. I really liked being involved in the process. If you're wondering why I'm holding an apple in this picture it's because my writing teacher made me do an exercise on using my senses. I had to bring the apple to life on paper.

My name is Stepanie Salguero and I am a 12th grader at Hollywood High. I think creating the alebrije was a project in which people cooperated to accomplish a common goal. I got to glue newspaper and paper bags onto the body and later I painted. It was very different from being in a regular classroom because you had to use your imagination and your hands.

Come join us on Thursday at LACC's DaVinci Gallery for a viewing of these students' art and some of their written work as well.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Two early heartfelts

[Jpegs taken from CHAC Valentine's Day showings, 2010 or prior years.]

This first piece doesn't begin in a "heartfelt" fashion, but bear with.

There's an adage about Life being the cruelest teacher: first it gives the test, then it gives the lesson.

Actually, there's something just as cruel that's omnisciently administered in U.S. public schools, that's called the pre-test. Those of you sans children or who've never personally benefited from this experience and don't know how lowly it can make children feel, well, don't despair; at some point in your remaining life you or yours may yet undergo the uplifting rigor of a pre-test.

Why test children--even five-year-old kindergartners--on something they know little to nothing about? For the sake of the BASELINE, a word teachers and students come to know as well as their daily schedule.

A schoolchild's progress (or lack of) and effectiveness of the teacher's skills (ditto), you see, justify the expenditure of millions of dollars and sustain thousands of jobs for "academic" number-crunchers and bean-counters whose existence depends on providing DATA to politicians, education corporations and administrators with the justification for cutting teachers, jobs and closing public schools so charter schools can be opened.

Even Colorado's entry into Obama's Race to the Top includes monies to be used for software, hardware and more numbers-people to cure our academic incompetence in international teaching standards. The thinking is that, if we're behind countries like Singapore, China and Denmark, it must be the teachers' fault.

Those millions of dollars and thousands of jobs might instead have been channeled into classrooms to teach children. Maybe with more teacher assistant paraprofessionals--try raising the educational level of 32 third graders by yourself all day long. Or more education specialists instructing in the classroom--try finding time to give differentiated one-on-one to a special ed kid in that same third grade room. Or more office staff to support teachers with children's behavioral problems and counseling--yeah, try teaching while one kid is hitting others and then being informed, "He's your fault and problem."

But our society doesn't believe in spending money in something so obviously beneficial because its targeted scapegoats are the teachers. The final solution is DATA and the obligatory pre-test.

In my case, for the sake of whatever self-esteem my first graders might salvage from such gauntlets, I regularly tell them that an answer of "Right now, I don't know." is acceptable. Thus I get many pre-tests with such responses. After all, how much would a six-year-old know about an index?

So, this week this teacher gave one of those pre-tests. Among other questions, was the following:
"Explica qué es un diagrama." ("What is a diagram?")

A few students had some idea. Most had none and responded as expected.

But one of the flaquitas, F__, usually does well or better in all subjects, She's a beanpole of unassuming ability, soft-voiced and reserved delight, who even after five months seems to enjoy deliberately driving me pre-testy by holding her pencil like she's attacking a steak, which in real life she probably doesn't do very often.

She also has within her a determination that won't allow her to easily admit failure. So, she tried. And she thought. And she dared to write this:

"Diagrama es el día de las fiestas de las abuelitas." (It's grandmothers' day.)

[Monolingual spoiler: F__ had deconstructed diagrama into "dia", which with an accent is the word for "day" (diá), and "grama" into a pochismo denoting grandmother.]

Amongst the teachers that day, it earned instant, funniest phrase of the week, because it demonstrated her imagination, her attempt to find sense in a nonsensical exercise--no matter her misinterpretation--and belied the intentions of pre-testers.

She brought more than laughter to our end of the building. She rejuvenated my tested-to-death teaching soul with her inventiveness and resourcefulness. Whichever cruel teachers, Life or otherwise, come her way, hopefully she'll continue putting her mind to them and send the inane scurrying.

And that's why I believe the episode with F__ fittingly, heartfelt.


Denver's CHAC Gallery
Milagros del Corazon
Miracles of the Heart is Underway!

February 12th, Friday night 6 to 9pm at Space Gallery across the street from CHAC is the site of this year's incredible Milagros del Corazon Auction. Join us for our Silent Auction that will feature hundreds of beautiful hearts designed by local Denver Artists, schools and our community supporters. Choose from numerous donated art pieces and services. Proceeds from this event will benefit our year round cultural arts programming!

Live classical Spanish guitar music by James Garcia.

Tickets: $7 per person or $12/couple and may be purchased in advance at CHAC. 303-571-0440 or click here for more info. (Artists go to "Artists News" for latest details on participating in the show.)

About CHAC
The Chicano Humanities & Arts Council (CHAC) was founded in 1978 by a group of visual and performing artists. The organization was established as a place where Chicano/Latino artists were provided with a venue to explore visual and performance art and promote and preserve the Chicano/Latino culture through the expression of the arts.
The gallery offers two shows each month by local visual art exhibits and performances by area musicians, actors, dancers, writers and poets. Other popular annual events include the Members Season Opener in January, Santos & Crosses in August, El Dia De Los Muertos in November and our Luminarias de la Guadalupe & Christmas Mercado in December.

Es todo, hoy,

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fiction in Translation - Part II

The second half of my list of recent crime fiction translated into English. Part I can be found here.
[publisher and author blurbs]

The Cavalie
r in the Yellow Doublet
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

From acclaimed and best-selling author Arturo Pérez-Reverte comes the fifth adventure of Captain Alatriste, "the brooding, charismatic hero of his wildly successful Spanish swashbuckling novels" (The New York Times).

In the cosmopolitan world of seventeenth-century Madrid, with its posh theaters and gleaming palaces, Captain Alatriste and his protégé, Íñigo, are fish out of water. But the king and court are keeping Alatriste on retainer—he has proved useful in the past. As a veteran with no other source of income, Alatriste chooses to remain, even as his “employment” brings him uncomfortably close to old enemies. Íñigo, now a young man and veteran of the Hundred Years War, chooses to remain with his master and press his ill-fated romance with the beautiful but sinister Angélica de Alquézar. Alatriste, for his part, begins an affair with the famous—and famously beautiful— actress María de Castro, and discovers that the competition for her favors may be much more dangerous than he’d bargained for, especially when Alatriste and Íñigo become unwilling participants in a court conspiracy that could lead them both to the gallows.

Thursday Night Widows
Claudia Piñeiro, translated by Miranda France
Bitter Lemon

Three bodies lie at the bottom of a swimming pool in a gated country estate near Buenos Aires. It’s Thursday night at the magnificent Scaglia house. Behind the locked gates, shielded from the crime, poverty and filth of the people on the streets, the Scaglias and their friends hide lives of infidelity, alcoholism, and abusive marriage. Claudia Piñeiro’s novel eerily foreshadowed a criminal case that generated a scandal in the Argentine media. But this is more than a story about crime. The suspense is a by-product of Piñeiro's hand at crafting a psychological portrait of a professional class that lives beyond its means and leads secret lives of deadly stress and despair. It takes place during the post 9/11 economic melt-down in Argentina but it’s a universal story that will resonate among credit-crunched readers of today.

Claudia Piñeiro was a journalist, playwright and television scriptwriter and in 1992 won the prestigious Pléyade journalism award. She has more recently turned to fiction and is the author of literary crime novels that are all bestsellers in Latin America and have been translated into four languages. Thursday Night Widows won the Clarin Prize for fiction and is her first title available in English.

Child's Play
Carmen Posadas, translated by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson

Luisa, a renowned mystery writer, is beginning her new novel, a story of psychological suspense that centers on the suspicious death of a child at an elite private day school. The author has a close familiarity with her setting: her thirteen-year-old daughter, Elba, is about to begin her academic year at the same school that Luisa once attended, a school much like the one in the novel.

But as her work progresses, the line between art and life begins to blur. Deeply repressed anxieties bubble to the surface, and she worries not only for her daughter's well-being but also for her own. As her new novel unfolds, events on the page ring with a disturbing familiarity—a troubling symmetry that is compounded when Luisa runs into two former classmates whose children also attend the school. The unexpected meeting brings to light a gruesome event the three shared.

When Elba is implicated in the accidental death of a classmate, past and present, real life and fiction, become one. Convinced that her novel has set in motion an unspeakable horror, Luisa must find a way to stop it—before everything she loves is lost.

The Holy Bullet
Luís Miguel Rocha, translated by Robin McAllister

A fast-paced thriller about the conspiracy surrounding the 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, from the author of the international bestseller The Last Pope.

An international journalist, a war-weary Portuguese veteran, a Muslim with visions of the Virgin Mary, a rogue priest, and members of the world's most powerful--and secretive--organizations come together after the suspicious death of Pope John Paul I. A few operatives bold enough to penetrate the Vatican's shadowy inner circle will investigate what went wrong--and try to prevent the popular new pope from meeting the same fate.

In London, journalist Sarah Monteiro is again drawn into the web of international conspiracy, and must reunite--reluctantly--with the mysterious priest/assassin Rafael, and the sinister mastermind known only as JC.

Sarah's and Rafael's commitment to truth and justice could prove to be extremely dangerous, for them and for John Paul II, especially if they discover the true power behind the papal throne.

Luís Miguel Rocha was born in Oporto, Portugal, and worked for many years in London as a television writer and producer. He now lives in Portugal, where he continues to write for television and film.

Gonçalo M. Tavares, translated by Anna Kushner
Dalkey Archive

One morning late in May, between three and six a.m., a group of lonely men and women wait to be brought together, like the elements in an equation. Ernst Spengler is about to throw himself out his window. Mylia, terminally ill and in enormous pain, goes out to visit a church. Hinnerk Obst, who’s always been told by the neighborhood children that he looks like a murderer, walks the streets with a loaded gun. As these characters are manipulated and brought together, a world of violence, fear, pain, and uncertainty is portrayed, where human nature itself, and the mechanisms determining our actions, our fictions, and the elements of our imagination, are laid bare.  Jerusalem is a terrifying and grimly humorous summation of the possibilities and limits of the human condition at the beginning of the 21st century.

Gonçalo M. Tavares was born in 1970. He has published numerous books since 2001 and has been awarded an impressive number of literary prizes in a very short time, including the Saramago Prize in 2005. He was also awarded the Prêmio Portugal Telecom de Literatura em Língua Portuguesa 2007 for Jerusalem.

The Last Reader
David Toscana, translated by Asa Zatz
Texas Tech University

In tiny Icamole, an almost deserted village in Mexico's desert north, the librarian, Lucio, is also the village's only reader. Though it has not rained for a year in Icamole, when Lucio's son Remigio draws the body of a thirteen-year-old girl from his well, floodgates open on dark possibility. Strangely enamored of the dead girl's beauty and fearing implication, Remigio turns desperately to his father. Persuading his son to bury the body, Lucio baptizes the girl Babette, after the heroine of a favorite novel. Is Lucio the keeper of too many stories? As police begin to investigate, has he lost his footing? Or do revelation and resolution lie with other characters and plots from his library? Toscana displays brilliant mastery of the novel--in all its elements--as Lucio keeps every last reader guessing.

Mexican novelist David Toscana describes his narrative aesthetics as "realismo desquiciado" (unrestrained realism), breaking with the Latin trend of magic realism through a prose that keeps an eye on the concrete experience of life in all its absurdity and lavish strangeness. In its original Spanish El ultimo lector was awarded the National Colima Prize, the Premio José Fuentes Mares, and the Antonin Artaud Prize and was also shortlisted for Latin America's most important literary award, the Romulo Gallegos International Novel Prize.

The Informers.
Juan Gabriel Vásquez, translated by Anne McLean

When Gabriel Santoro's biography is scathingly reviewed by his own father, a public intellectual and famous Bogotá rhetorician, Gabriel could not imagine what had pierced his icy exterior to provoke such a painful reaction. A volume that catalogs the life of Sara Guterman, a longtime family friend and Jewish immigrant, since her arrival in Colombia in the 1930s, A Life in Exile seemed a slim, innocent exercise in recording modern history. But as a devastated Gabriel delves, yet again, into Sara's story, searching for clues to his father's anger, he cannot yet see the sinister secret buried in his research that could destroy his father's exalted reputation and redefine his own.

After his father's mysterious death in a car accident a few years later, Gabriel sets out anew to navigate half a century of half-truths and hidden meanings. With the help of Sara Guterman and his father's young girlfriend, Angelina, layer after shocking layer of Gabriel's world falls away and a complex portrait of his father emerges from the ruins. From the streets of 1940s Bogotá to a stranger's doorstep in 1990s Medellín, he unravels the web of doubt, betrayal, and guilt at the core of his father's life and he wades into a dark, long silenced period of Colombian history after World War II.

With a taut, riveting narrative and achingly beautiful prose, Juan Gabriel Vásquez delivers an expansive, powerful exploration of the sins of our fathers, of war's devastating psychological costs, and of the inescapability of the past. A novel that has earned Vásquez comparisons to Sebald, Borges, Roth, and Márquez, The Informers heralds the arrival of a major literary talent.

Reviewed for La Bloga by Michael Sedano here.

Season of Ash
Jorge Volpi,
translated by Alfred MacAdam
Open Letter

The Soviet biologist Irina Granina has experienced the worst of Communism, struggling to free her husband from the gulag for years. Following the rise of Gorbachev, her husband finally emerges a changed man, but then Irina is forced to witness the worst of capitalism, as her daughter Oksana disappears into the newly rapacious consumer society and she loses her husband again, this time to greed and a lust for power.

In the West, Jennifer Moore, the scion of blue-blooded American wealth, takes a high-ranking job at the International Monetary Fund, where she hopes to bring the tough love of the free market economy to the unenlightened masses the world over. But she also has to deal with a philandering husband, Jack Wells, whose pharmaceutical company is a market wonder built on a house of cards, and her sister Allison, a free-spirited anti-globalization activist.

Jorge Volpi's Season of Ash puts a human face on earth-shaking events of the late twentieth century: the Chernobyl disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Soviet communism and the rise of the Russian oligarchs, the cascading collapsing of developing economies, and the near-miraculous scientific advances of the Human Genome Project. A scientific investigation, a journalistic exposé, a detective novel, and a dark love story, Season of Ash is a thrilling exploration of greed and disillusionment, and a clear-eyed examination of the passions that rule our lives and make history.


So many books, so little time.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

LULAC: Then and Now

When discussing the Chicano Movement, we are generally informed about the familiar; the Crusade for Justice, La Raza Unida Party, and a trio of Chicano student groups (UMAS, MAYA, & MAYO) that in the Spring of '69 united to form the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan better known as MEChA. While there is no denying the importance and impact of the aforementioned organizations in regard to el movimiento, there is another Mexican American social movement surpassing the others both in history and accessibility.

In No Mexicans, Women, Or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, Cynthia E. Orozco reveals the architecture behind the League of United Latin-American Citizens (LULAC). Orozco offers clear and brave insight into the inspiration, aspiration, and culmination of strategy that led a group of men to inaugurate (what has now become) the oldest Mexican American civil rights organization in the United States. On the 17th of February LULAC will celebrate its 81st birthday.

With an introduction that sets the tone of this first fully comprehensive study in context, Orozco opens No Mexicans with a look into the mission of LULAC by quoting from the League's constitution. "LULAC's original purpose," writes Orozco. "Was to develop within the members of our race, the best, purest, and most perfect type of a true and loyal citizen of the United States..." Orozco advances in interpreting the historically negative ridicule the League experienced at the hands of Chicano movement activists and scholars of the late 1960's and early 1970's.

The heart of the book is divided into three parts followed by a conclusion; Society and Ideology, Politics, and Theory and Methodology. Orozco writes her investigation of LULAC with sheer confidence as she disproves old beliefs and inaccurate assumptions. Not satisfied with stating the obvious accomplishments of the League, Orozco digs deep into LULAC's undeniable influence upon future Chicano organizations and groups. While ensuing organizations such as Corky's Crusade and Gutierrez's Party cultivated success, each somehow fell during the championship rounds of their fight. There is no doubt that the fraternities of the 60's and 70's embodied the same inspiration and aspiration of the League, but their strategy lacked the unity and endurance to transcend beyond el movimiento. It is with this evidence that Orozco repudiates the fallacy of LULAC's early image of lacking corazon and cultura.

Cynthia E. Orozco validates the belief and dedication of thousands upon thousand of students and adults who are members of LULAC as they are very much live participants of a present day Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Their belief system is not merely based on rhetoric and or terminology, but on a collective unity that aims always at fulfilling the League's mission. Que Viva LULAC!

No Mexicans, Women, Or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement by Cynthia E. Orozco. University of Texas Press; November, 2009.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

¡Quiero ayudar! Let Me Help!

Written by Alma Flor Ada. Illustrated by Angela Domínguez.

Bilingual in English and Spanish
32 page • Ages 4 to 8
9 ¼” x 10”
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-89239-232-2
Children's Book Press
Available Spring 2010

This Spring, Children's Book Press is pleased to publish a new book by the amazing award-winning author, Alma Flor Ada. Let Me Help! / ¡Quiero ayudar! is a charming story of Perico, a pet parrot who desperately wants to help his family prepare for the Cinco de Mayo fiesta, but is constantly being shooed away. In the end, Perico finds his own special way to lend a hand (or wing).

Let me help! Let me help!”

Perico learns this phrase from little Martita, who’s been saying it a lot lately. When the whole family scrambles to prepare for Cinco de Mayo, Perico knows there must be some way he can help—even if he is just a parrot.

Perico tries to help make delicious tamales. He tries to help craft beautiful paper flowers for the barge his family will take down the San Antonio River. He tries to help the boys practice their mariachi number on the porch. But at every turn Perico is shooed away, until he finally figures out how he can add something to the Cinco de Mayo fun.

Acclaimed author Alma Flor Ada’s tale is the story of every young reader who has been told he or she is too little or too young to help. Angela Domínguez’s vibrantly hued paintings glow with the rich colors of the southwest. Let Me Help! is a joyful read-aloud, yay!

Alma Flor Ada is an award-winning children's book author, a gifted translator, and one of the leaders in the field of bilingual education in the United States. Born in Cuba, Alma Flor received her PhD at the Pontifical Catholic University of Lima, Perú, did her post-doctoral research at Harvard University as a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute, and is a Fulbright Research Scholar. She was named Professor Emerita at the University of San Francisco in 2004. She lives in Northern California's Marin County.

Angela Domínguez was born in Mexico City and raised in Texas. Growing up, she loved to read and to draw. In 2007, she received her MFA in illustration from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. When she is not drawing, she enjoys the outdoors and drinking coffee. She hopes that her illustrations make people of all ages smile. This is her first picture book, and second children's book. She lives in Fresno, California.

Look out for Let Me Help! in April. It'll be out just in time to help you plan your Cinco de Mayo festivities.

Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy
Interview by Loyola Marymount University

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Luis Leal. ¡Presente!

La Bloga friend J.F. Herrera sends this notice:

Luis Leal, our pioneer, passed away last night in his sleep, in Santa Barbara, QEPD.

Details, arrangements, contact Francisco Lomeli,


Guest Columnist: Xánath Caraza. Isabel Allende. La isla bajo el mar

La isla bajo el mar
Book Review by Xánath Caraza

La isla bajo el mar
Novel by Isabel Allende

I was on page 335 of La isla bajo el mar when I found out about Haiti’s earthquake on January 12, 2010. Literally my heart collapsed along with the many buildings in Port-au-Prince and my thoughts and prayers are with the many Haitians suffering right now. I personally know a little of what it is to lose a house to a disaster. However, the human losses are definitely out of my spectrum even though I sympathize so much with Haiti. Inner strength comes in unimaginable and literally mysterious ways.

La isla bajo el marr by Isabel Allende was released in August 2009. I learnt about it in September and since then, I had been wanting to submerge myself in the novel. La isla bajo el mar was originally written in Spanish and will hopefully soon be released in its English language translation.

La isla bajo el mar is a novel that takes place in La Hispaniola at the end of the XVIII century. It focuses on the then French colony, now Haiti. I was excited to grow along with the main character, Zarité, and along the way learned about the history of La Hispaniola, especially of what is currently Haiti. For instance, Haiti was the only colony in the Americas where a revolution was carried out by slaves and was successful.

Not only did I learn of a more general historical context of what is today Haiti, but also I explored the personal experiences of the fictitious main character, Zarité Sedella, who no matter what happens in her life, considers herself under the protection of good fortune. Zarité was born a slave and at the age of nine was sold as a domestic slave to a new owner. Early in her life, she was advised by Honoré to dance in the traditional celebration with rhythmic drums of noches de calenda, since a slave who danced was free. “Baila, baila, Zarité, porque esclavo que baile es libre…mientras baila”. She had dreamt of becoming free from an early age, and dancing gave her strength to go on.

Of the historical aspect of Zarité’s experience, during the noches de calenda, the dances turned into Voodoo ceremonies. The Voodoo religion was brought to this continent by African slaves during French and Spanish colonial times and was misinterpreted by many at the time.

In light of Zarité’s more individual character development outside the historical aspect, the description of spiritually strong characters, such as Zatité as well as others could not be missed. I fell in love with Zarité’s spiritual strength. Zarité Sedella is not a flat character. She showed me psychological and geographical changes throughout the novel. Psychologically, I saw her move from fear, love, strength, and freedom. All these psychological changes happened in places such as a slave trade boat, where she was conceived and born, as well as in Haiti, Cuba, and finally New Orleans. Zarité went through different stages, from a slave, lover, mother and finally a free woman. Her strength came from her beliefs and the celebration of her African roots. She never lost the freedom of her own thoughts in spite of being a slave.

Lastly, I want to say that a good book allows me to feel what its characters are experiencing. Some of the feelings I experienced with Zarité Sedella were friendship, love, loss, redemption, bondage, and freedom. I enjoyed the love story of Zarité and Gambo while intermingled in the beginning of the Revolution in Haiti. I also danced with Zarité Sedella during the noches de calenda and celebrated her emancipation. Therefore, I believe you will enjoy La isla bajo el mar by Isabel Allende as much as I did. My explanation of what Honoré says is: Dance, reader, dance with the reading of a book and never lose the freedom of your own thoughts. Ciao, chao y feliz lectura.

La isla bajo el mar
Reseña por Xánath Caraza

La isla bajo el mar
Novela por Isabel Allende

Estaba en la página 335 de La isla bajo el mar cuando supe del terremoto en Haití el 12 de enero de 2010. Literalmente my corazón colapsó junto con muchos de los edificios en Puerto Príncipe y mis pensamientos y oraciones están con los muchos haitianos sufriendo ahora. Personalmente estoy un poco familiarizada con lo que significa perder una casa por un desastre. Sin embargo las pérdidas humanas están definitivamente fuera de mi espectro aunque simpatizo mucho con Haití. La fuerza interna viene de maneras inimaginables y literalmente misteriosas.

La isla bajo el mar r fue escrita por Isabel Allende y salió al público en agosto de 2009. Me enteré de ésta en septiembre y desde entonces he querido sumergirme en la novela La isla bajo el mar fue originalmente escrita en español y espero esté pronto al alcance del público en su traducción al idioma inglés.

La isla bajo el mar es una novela que sucede en La Española a finales del siglo XVIII, enfocándose en la región de la entonces colonia francesa, hoy Haití. Estaba entusiasmada por crecer con Zarité en la novela al tiempo de aprender sobre la historia de La Española, especialmente lo que actualmente es Haití. Por ejemplo, Haití fue la única colonia en América donde la revolución se llevó a cabo por los esclavos y triunfó.

No sólo aprendí de un contexto histórico general de lo que es Haití, sino que también exploré la experiencia personal del personaje ficticio principal, Zarité Sedella, a quien sin importar lo que suceda en su vida, se considera bajo la protección de su buena estrella. Zarité nació esclava y a la edad de nueve fue vendida como esclava doméstica a un nuevo dueño. Muy temprano en su vida, fue aconsejada por Honoré para que bailara en celebraciones tradicionales con tambores rítmicos en las noches de calenda, ya que esclavo que baila es libre. “Baila, baila, Zarité, porque esclavo que baile es libre…mientras baila”. Ella había soñado con ser libre desde muy joven y el bailar le daba fuerza para continuar.

De los aspectos históricos de la experiencia de Zarité, en las noches de calenda, los bailes se transformaban en ceremonias vudú. La religión vudú fue traída a este continente por los esclavos africanos durante el período colonial español y francés y fue mal interpretado por muchos en aquel tiempo.

En cuanto al desarrollo individual del personaje Zarité fuera del aspecto histórico, la descripción de personajes fuertes espiritualmente, como el caso de Zarité, entre otros, no podía faltar. Me enamoré de la fuerza interna de Zarité. Zarité Sedella no es un personaje plano. Me mostró cambios psicológicos acompañados por los geográficos a lo largo de la novela. Psicológicamente la vi desplazarse entre el miedo, amor, fortaleza y libertad a través de un barco de esclavos, donde fue concebida y nació, tanto en Haití, Cuba y finalmente Nueva Orleans. Zarité pasó por varias etapas, desde esclava, amante, madre y finalmente una mujer libre. Su fuerza venía de sus creencias y la celebración de sus raíces africanas. Nunca perdió la libertad de sus pensamientos a pesar de ser esclava.

Quiero concluir diciendo que un buen libro me hace sentir lo que sus personajes van experimentando. Algunos de los sentimientos que experimenté con Zarité Sedella fueron amistad, amor, pérdida, redención, cautiverio y libertad. Disfruté la historia de amor entre Zarité y Gambo mientras se mezclaba con la Revolución de Haití. También bailé con Zarité Sedella en las noches de calenda y celebré su emancipación. Por lo tanto, pienso que vas a disfrutar de la novela tanto como yo lo hice. Mi explicación a lo que Honoré dice es: baila, lector, baila que con la lectura de un libro nunca se pierde la libertad de pensamiento. Ciao, chao y feliz lectura.

Xánath Caraza is a member of Latino Writers Collective, Kansas City MO

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Monday, January 25, 2010

East L.A. Reading Cancelled 1/25/10 - Limon & Olivas

Due to illness of one of the readers, this evening's reading featuring Graciela Limón and Daniel Olivas is cancelled.

Please advise your compañeras compañeros who might have been planning to attend this event.

Barrios joins board of National Book Critics Circle

Steve Bennett of the San Antonio Express-News reports the great news:

Former Express-News book editor and critic Gregg Barrios weighed in today with some excellent news: He's been elected to the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle.


The National Book Critics Circle, founded in 1974, is a nonprofit organization consisting of more than 600 active book reviewers who are interested in honoring quality writing and communicating with one another about common concerns. The centerpiece of NBCC activities is the annual awards for the best book in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Recent winners include Roberto Bolano for "2666," Dexter Filkins for "The Forever War" and poet Juan Felipe Herrera for "Half the World in Light ." 2010 finalist are to be announced Jan. 23.

Read the entire story here. If you missed our previous interview with Gregg Barrios, click here.

◙ Well, I had a wonderful reading for Anywhere But L.A. (Bilingual Press) last Thursday at the legendary independent bookstore, Kepler's Books near the Stanford campus, which was co-sponsored by the Chicano/Latino Student Alumni Association of Northern California. After a fun dinner next door at Café Borrone, we walked over to Kepler’s where I was introduced by award-winning novelist Michael Nava. We had a great crowd and lots of good questions afterwards. Many thanks to the Association and Kepler’s Books (especially to Pam and Judi) for putting this together. If you missed the event, you may order an autographed copy from Kepler’s. We must support our independent bookstores!

And tonight, at 6:30 p.m., I will have a joint appearance with the truly great Graciela Limón at the East Los Angeles Library, 4837 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90022. Phone: 323-264-0155. We will discuss magic and realism in contemporary Chicano literature. A reception and book signing will highlight the evening. Graciela’s newest book is The River Flows North (Arte Público Press). If you haven’t seen Graciela at a book event, you are in for a special time. This is a free event.

◙ Check out the American Library Association’s list GLBTQ books for children and teens. This is part of the ALA’s Rainbow Project. You will recognize a few friends of La Bloga on the list.

◙ Don’t miss Daniel Alarcón’s essay, Life Among the Pirates, in the new issue of the literary journal, GRANTA.

◙ The Latino Books Examiner reports that a new Latino bookstore opened its doors in Austin, Texas:

Dulce Bread & Book Shop gives you a warm bienvenida, welcoming you to a virtual multilingual bookshop café. Based in Austin, Texas, Dulce is an independent bookshop specializing in an array of multilingual, multicultural books crafted by multicultural authors, in the original language, in translation, as well as bilingual editions. Dulce makes a strong effort to offer all books and has a vast inventory to satisfy diverse flavors in all genres.

Read the entire report here.

◙ The Latino Books Examiner also reports that nominations are now being accepted for the 2010 International Latino Book Awards to be held at the Javits Center in New York City on May 25. Books must carry a 2009 publishing date to be eligible. More information here.

◙ That’s all for this Monday (a bit short because I'm on the road in Northern California). In the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

All About My Body at the Korean Spa

By tatiana de la tierra

My body, the sacred vessel, sure gets mangled up. It gets punctured with needles that siphon so much of my blood that you’d think the lab technicians were filling up a Hummer. It gets clawed by my feline companions who like to pretend that I’m a tree. It gets sliced with scalpels in the hands of daydreaming doctors who think they’re carving a pumpkin.

Even worse, though, are the things I do to my body all on my own. Like how I play couch potato watching movies on cable for so long that my body becomes a burnt baked potato. Or how I put it on a treadmill or try to make it lift weights or get yogic with sun salutations, leading to limbs popping off as if they were Lego blocks under duress. How I make it lug the purse that I sling across my chest; it’s so heavy that the leather strap has burrowed deep into my shoulder and several layers of skin have grown over it. Or how I stuff it with stuffed meatballs until my stomach churns out a fax: “The parking lot is full. Incoming cars must wait for others to exit.”

My poor little big body.

Sometimes my body is so done in that there is only one thing left to do: take it to the Korean spa. I’ve gone to the big fancy spas downtown and to smaller low-key ones closer to home; they all do the trick. Once I’m at a Korean spa my body knows it will walk out with a transformed sense of being.

Inside the Korean spa my nude body joins other nude bodies. My body is very blasé about this, like it’s so natural to be naked with strangers. And quickly, almost instantly, this is the case. My scars, stretch marks and sagging body parts join the club of women with their own scars, stretch marks and sagging body parts. At some point I stop noticing c-sections, birthmarks and Brazilians.

Because everything is irrelevant when my body is immersed in 170-degree water, getting zapped. Even I am irrelevant. It is all about my body. It is scorched, my pores are wide open and the heat is rising to the top of my head. Meanwhile, I am effortlessly exuding layers of funk, my muscles are melting, and I am sinking, slinking into the seat of the whirlpool in a hot haze.

I manage to catch myself just in time before becoming a boiled red lobster. I pick up my body and take it out of the hot tub and over to the tiny cold pool, where I plunge it into frigid waters, shocking it. Then I pull out and sit down for a while, letting my body throb out the effects of extreme heat followed by extreme cold.

And then I do it all over again.

Round two is usually the steam room, where I get to let my imagination roam in the sizzling mists of steam. I watch monkeys hopping around in trees and discover ancient civilizations as beads of sweat adorn my body. My favorite is the salt steam room, where I grab handfuls of salt and rub it over my entire body, leaving my skin soft and shiny.

Korean spas are self-contained little cities where you can hang out all day and get all of your needs met. They have an exercise room, a restaurant and a lounge where you can sit back and watch Korean TV shows. They have Latina cleaning women who dutifully pick up white towels strewn all over the place. They have warm low-light relaxation rooms where you can lay down and drift off on top of bamboo mats. Each room is distinct; the last spa I went to had a room with all the walls made of salt bricks and sauna rooms made of red clay balls and jade. The spas offer services such as body scrubs, acupressure and massage. And they have tons of showers, some against the wall and others in clusters low to the ground with flexible showerheads and plastic stools for sitting. Here, Korean women plunk themselves down and scrub away repeatedly at the same body part; they often scrub each other, also repeatedly at the same body part.

Koreans are totally into scrubbing. I’m not much of a scrubber myself, not even for the sake of my dirty pots and pans, so I hand my body over to the professional scrubber at the spa. Body scrubs take place out in the open near the whirlpools, where waterproof massage tables are lined up with scrubbers wearing uniforms of black bras and panties. These women take scrubbing very seriously; I get on the table knowing that I’ll be a few pounds lighter when I get off, as they will scrub wads of layers of my skin off. They will scrub relentlessly and without remorse, flipping me around to reach every crevice, treating my soft and vulnerable body as if it were a pig at a slaughterhouse. Feeling like a piece of meat at a booze-drenched cruising bar is nothing compared to being a piece of meat at a Korean spa. And it’s a wonderful thing to be reduced to flesh and bones, because sometimes I forget that my body, my residence, is a big pulsating piece of meat.

If my body is in a high state of tension, and if I’m feeling brave, I sign my body up for an acupressure session. Since I don’t speak Korean and can’t explain what’s going on with my body and what I hope to get out of the session, I offer a prayer as soon as I get on the table: Please leave my body intact, with all the limbs attached.

The acupressure therapists are petite and look sweet and dainty, but they are tigers on the table, and they don’t hold back. She will press into my back with the full weight of her body in her fingertips. Eventually she will leap onto the table herself and use every available part of her body to press into mine, tenderizing my meat and releasing my blocked chi. She will do a handstand on my buttocks and chop wood on my thighs. Then she’ll flip me over and lift the skin off the bones of my face and knuckle the soles of my feet. At the end she’ll sit me up on the table and karate chop my back and hand me a little envelope with her name on it for the tip.

Good job, Jennifer. Thank you for the pulverizing experience. See you next time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Readings. tomorrow. Sunday. Hollywood!

"Tongue & Groove" - A monthly offering of short fiction, personal essays, poetry, spoken word + music.

Tomorrow featuring:
Sam Quinones - "True Tales from Another Mexico"
Jennine Capocrucet - "Leaving Hialeah"
Sesshu Foster "Atomik Aztex"
Julie Weidmann, Myrlin A. Hermes - "The Lunatic, The Lover, and The Poet"
and music by Sam Suicide

Sunday Jan 24th; 6-7:30 pm The Hotel Café, 1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd. Hollywood, Califas Admission: $6.00

Jennine Capó Crucet is the author of HOW TO LEAVE HIALEAH, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award, was a finalist for the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize, and was recently named by the Miami Herald as one of the ten best books of 2009. Her stories have appeared in Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, and other magazines. She wants you to know that no matter what you've heard, her mother raised her right.

Sesshu Foster taught composition and literature in East L.A. for 20 years. He's also taught writing at the University of Iowa, the California Institute for the Arts and the University of California, Santa Cruz. His work has been published in The Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry, and his own books include World Ball Notebook, City Terrace Field Manual and Atomik Aztex

Myrlin A. Hermes is a graduate of Reed College and the University of London, and has received grants from the Institute for Humane Studies and the Arts Council England. Her book is a pansexual re-imagining of Shakespeare's Hamlet and won the Arch & Bruce Brown Fiction prize.

Sam Quinones is a journalist with the Los Angeles Times and author of two acclaimed books of nonfiction. In 1998, he was awarded the Alicia Patterson Fellowship, one of the most prestigious fellowships in U.S. print journalism, for a series of stories on impunity in Mexico, including a story of a lynching in a small town. Hailed as a cult classic, True Tales has also been used in classes in more than a hundred universities.

Julie Weidmann is an actress, comedian and writer.
Sam Suicide plays traditional country music of love and death.

Come one, come all and come early!
Seating limited and we start on time!

For more info, go here.

Pre-release announcement

The Deer Dancer
a novel by Gary Winters
Sunbelt Publications, Inc.
hardcover 184 pages
ISBN 9780916251000
$16.95, 5.5" x 8.5"
available 3/01/2010

Winner of the Silver Medal, Chicano/Latino Literary Prize for Unpublished Novel at the Univ. of Calif., Irvine!
Finalist for Unpublished YA Novel, San Diego Book Awards!

From the publisher:

"The perfect book for young men and women who are not big readers, to learn to love reading!

"Well-written, timely and fills a niche for Latino youth fiction that isn’t about gangs and drugs.

"The Deer Dancer, a mature YA novel, is a contemporary coming-of-age story about a Yaqui Indian boy, set in Mexico. Juan Araiza has no money, no shoes, no education and no future. He leaves his village to search for his father—a man he never knew—in Mexico’s second largest city. Juan doesn’t find his father, but his native wit and grit take him all the way from the streets to a job in the federal government. He meets the charismatic Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos and soon finds him
self torn, his head in the government job and his heart in the black-masked Zapatista fight for Indian rights."

Gary Winters was the English editor, feature writer, and columnist for a bilingual newspaper in Mexico. In the United States he’s been published in numerous magazines and anthologies and won writing awards for poetry, short story, novel and photojournalism. A Mensa member, he’s also a member of Writers/Editors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild.

For pre-orders go here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fiction in Translation - Part I

Every once in a while I get asked a question along the lines of "why write crime fiction?" in a way that implies that I could be spending my time in much more worthwhile pursuits. And many reviewers still insist on bestowing backhanded compliments on crime writers who blow them away by criticizing the genre they write in. For example, take this sentence from the Denver Post's recent review of Sleepless, by Charles Huston (Ballantine Books): "He is a standout young voice in what might be considered the genre of crime fiction, but his writing is simply too good to be genre-constrained." Jeez, enough already.

Seeing as how there isn't much I can do about the condescension or outright prejudice against crime, mystery and detective fiction, I will, instead, continue promoting crime writers and books whenever I get the opportunity; readers you take it from there.

In the spirit of internationalism, I present a list of recent crime fiction (or novelas negras, if you prefer) originally written in Spanish (or Portuguese) and now translated into English. There's got to be one, at least, on this list that will grab your attention; introduce you to a new writer; or turn out to be the best read you've had in months. This is Part I; Part II continues next week. The text is taken from publisher or author summaries.

This also feels like a good time to congratulate two finalists for the Edgar Allen Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Luis Alberto Urrea is one of five finalists in the Short Story category for Amapola in the Phoenix Noir anthology (Akashic Books); and Robert Arellano is a finalist in the Paperback Original category for Havana Lunar (Akashic Books). Urrea has an essay about his surprise when he learned he had been nominated for an Edgar® posted on his website. Michael Sedano reviewed Havana Lunar for La Bloga, here. The Edgar® Awards will be presented to the winners at the MWA Gala Banquet, April 29, 2010 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

[NOTE: This list comes from two sources: Border Patrol, newsletter of The International Association of Crime Writers, Winter, 2010, and Cynthia Nye of High Crimes Mystery Bookshop. Some titles might seem to stretch the definition of "crime fiction." However, I am willing to go along with the International Crime Writers and the mystery bookseller - they should know.]


Field of Honour
Max Aub, translated by Gerald Martin

A contemporary of Lorca and Buñuel in Spain’s Second Republic, Max Aub escaped into a life of exile after General Franco seized Barcelona. His masterpiece, acknowledged in Spain as one of the best accounts of the Spanish Civil War, is the six-novel cycle known as The Magic Labyrinth — never before translated into English. A playwright as well as a novelist, he brings the period alive through vibrant dialogue and a story that navigates the factional intrigues that eventually erupted onto the streets in violence.

The protagonist of the first novel is Rafael López Serrador, whose coming of age in Barcelona introduces a cast from all walks of city life—Catalan nationalists, anarchists, Falangists, government ministers and showgirls. Just as central a character is Barcelona itself, lovingly depicted. Rafael’s adventures bring him into contact with the forces that were to destroy the Republic and determine the bloody course of the Spanish Civil War.

Masterfully translated by Gerald Martin, author of Gabriel García Márquez: A Life, Max Aub’s novel is set to introduce to an English-speaking audience a classic of Spanish and Latin American literature—an account of the Spanish Civil War to compare with Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Dream of Reason
Rosa Chacel
, translated by Carol Maier
University of Nebraska

A masterpiece of modernist fiction about one man’s search for meaning, Dream of Reason (La sinrazón) reveals Rosa Chacel as an intellectual and literary innovator whose work stands alongside that of Joyce, Proust, and Woolf. This meditative novel, grounded in the thinking of Spain’s great modern philosopher Ortega y Gasset, unfolds as the journal of a bourgeois chemist who makes his way in Buenos Aires just before and during the Spanish Civil War. Tracing his relationship with three women, Santiago Hernández explores the power of his own intentions and the limits of human reason. His introspective experiment, set against the background of world-altering events, documents the workings of a self-absorbed mind speculating on the inseparability of self and circumstance and is a brilliant enactment of how, from such tensions, narrative emerges.

Rosa Chacel (1898–1994), one of the most promising pre-Civil War writers, was “rediscovered” in her native Spain after returning to Madrid from an exile of more than three decades. In addition to La sinrazón, her many works include Teresa, Memorias de Leticia Valle, and Barrio de Maravillas (The Maravillas District, Nebraska 1992).

Op Oloop
Juan Filloy
, translated by Lisa Dillman
Dalkey Archive (originally published in Argentina in 1934)

Mr. Optimus Oloop is a Finnish statistician living in Buenos Aires. His life runs according to a methodical and rigid schedule, with everything—from his meals down to his regular visits to the city brothels—timed to the minute. But when an insignificant traffic delay upsets this sacred schedule, and on the day of Oloop's engagement party, the clock begins ticking down towards a catastrophe that no amount of planning will avert. A playful and unpredictable masterpiece of Argentinean literature, raising comparisons to Ulysses and serving as a primary inspiration to authors such as Julio Cortázar and Alfonso Reyes, Op Oloop is the first novel by lawyer, Hellenist, boxing referee, and decagenarian Juan Filloy (1894-2000) to be translated into English.

Juan Filloy was an excellent swimmer, dedicated boxing referee, and talented caricaturist; he spoke seven languages and he practiced as a judge in the small town of Río Cuarto, 200 kilometers from Córdoba, where he spent nearly the whole of his life. He died in 2000 at the age of 106. A world champion palindromist, he made use of the entire dictionary in his books, coined new words, and used only seven letters in all the titles of his works. He received various distinctions during his lifetime and was nominated for the Nobel Prize.

Juan the Landless
Juan Goytisolo, translated by Peter Bush
Dalkey Archive

Juan Goytisolo's radical revision of his masterpiece Juan the Landless is the starting-point for this new translation by renowned translator Peter Bush. The new text focuses on Goytisolo's surreal exploration and rejection of his own roots, Catholic Spain's repression of Muslims, Jews and gays, his ancestors' exploitation of Cuban slaves and his own forging of a language at once poetic, politic and ironic that celebrates the erotic act of writing and the anarchic joy of being the ultimate outsider. In Juan the Landless the greatest living novelist from Spain defiantly re-invents tradition and the world as a man without a home, without a country, in praise of pariahs.

Born in 1931, Juan Goytisolo has lived a life of political and cultural exile. A bitter opponent of the Franco regime, his early novels, including Marks of Identity, were banned in Spain. Since leaving Spain, he has lived mostly in France and Morocco. He is the author of a number of novels, many of which, including The Young Assassins, Count Julian, Makbara, The Marx Family Saga, and Quarantine, have been translated into English.

The Book of God and Physics: A Novel of the Voynich Mystery
Enrique Joven, translated by Dolores M. Koch

In his search for truth, a young Jesuit joins a group that has for centuries been trying to decipher the secrets of a mysterious book known as the Voynich Manuscript. This manuscript has developed a global cult following of cryptographers, none of whom has been able to crack its code. Written in an unknown language and illustrated with enigmatic drawings that no one has been able to interpret, the work first surfaced in the court of Rudolf II of Bohemia.

This same Bohemian court also gave refuge to two of the greatest, and most controversial, scientific minds of all time: famed Dane Tycho Brahe and German Johannes Kepler. These two astronomers—together with their contemporaries Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei—were engaged in the most formidable dialogue in the history of science and laid the groundwork for nearly all of contemporary astronomy and physics.

Is there a connection between Voynich and the brilliant scientists who frequented the court? Could the manuscript perhaps be the codified findings of either Brahe or Kepler, written in a special language to conceal their scientific discoveries from the Church and its brutal Inquisition?

When a key to unlocking Voynich is discovered in the church where the young Jesuit teaches, powerful forces conspire to keep the contents of the manuscript from being decoded. It is then up to the young Jesuit to unlock these secrets hidden in plain sight for centuries.

Departing Dawn: A Novel of Argentina's Dirty War

Gloria Lisé, translated by Alice Waldon
Feminist Press

March 23, 1976. Berta watches as her lover, Atilio, a union organizer, is thrown from a window to his death on the sidewalk below. The next day, Colonel Jorge Rafael Videla stages a coup d’état and a military dictatorship takes control of Argentina. Though never a part of Atilio’s union efforts, Berta is on a list to be “disappeared” and flees to relatives in the countryside. There she becomes part of the family she knows only from old photographs: Aunt Avelina, who blasts records from an old player; Uncle Nepomuceno, who watches slugs slither in the garden every afternoon; and Uncle Javier, who sits in his tiny grocery store day and night. When Berta learns that government officials are still looking for her, she realizes she must run even further to save her life.

Gloria Lisé describes a terrifying period in her nation's history with a touch that is light yet penetrating. A powerful portrait of Argentinians caught up in traumas that have haunted the country ever since.

Your Face Tomorrow, Volume Three: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell
Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa
New Directions

Poison, Shadow and Farewell, with its heightened tensions between meditations and noir narrative, with its wit and ever deeper forays into the mysteries of consciousness, brings Marías’ three-part Your Face Tomorrow to a stunning finale. Already this novel has been acclaimed “exquisite“ (Publishers Weekly), “gorgeous” (Kirkus), and “outstanding: another work of urgent originality” (The Independent, London). Poison, Shadow and Farewell takes our hero Jaime Deza—hired by MI6 as a person of extraordinarily sophisticated powers of perception—back to Madrid to both spy on and try to protect his own family, and into new depths of love and loss, with a fluency on the subject of death that could make a stone weep.

“This brilliant trilogy must be one of the greatest novels of our age.”
Antony Beevor, The Sunday London Telegraph (Books of the Year)

Your Face Tomorrow is already being compared to Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, and rightly so. It is a novel of extraordinary subtlety and pathos. The next thing Marías deserves is the Nobel Prize.” — The Observer

“By one of the most original writers at work today, Your Face Tomorrow [is] as accomplished and sui generis as all his mature work [and the] most affecting narrative feat in Marías’s work to date.”
Wyatt Mason, The New York Times Book Review

“Sexy, contemplative, elusive, and addictive.”
San Francisco Bay Guardian

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, translated by Nick Caistor
Serpent's Tail

Pepe Carvalho, ex-cop, ex-Marxist and constant gourmet, is working as a private detective in Barcelona, when a body is pulled out of the sea, its face so badly destroyed that the only way of identifying it is through a tattoo that says: ‘Born to raise hell in hell’.

A local hairdresser hires Carvalho to find out who the man is. Meanwhile, the Barcelona police make a connection between the murder and local drug dealers and prostitutes, and they begin raiding bars and brothels.

A lead on the identity of the murdered man brings Carvalho to Amsterdam, where he gets entangled with a drug gang. As the pace accelerates, Carvalho realizes that this is no straightforward John Doe case.

Part II next week.