Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bloodsuckers, Quinones, Like Son & Redoubt

pensamientos on 4 books - by RudyG (Denver)

It would be a stretch for me to link this post to Father's Day, so I won't try. . . I've been gone so long from this site. . . I thought of sharing memories of my past year with 22 bilingual second graders, but alas, there were no tearful moments to end such a piece with. . . I considered ranting about the strain of reaching and teaching U.S. children when the educational bureaucracy binds one arm about your body, but thankfully, I'm bored with my rants.

Anyway, since my compa's on La Bloga have done a better-than-scholarly job since my going on sabbatical, I accept that anything I post is destined to pale. . .

Though I've written little in past months, I have read, some great and some so-so. Since I suck as a reviewer, better I just share mis pensamientos about four books, which I highly recommend, for differing reasons:

First: Dan Olivas recently gave us a great interview with Mario Acevedo, author of X-Rated Bloodsuckers (from Rayo press). I enjoyed his first, Nymphos of Rocky Flats, even though the vampire genre is not high on my list of must-reads. Maybe I read both because like some of you I'm aburrido con movies, TV programs and books where even the bad guys are usually Anglo. Mario's storytelling talents made his novel well worth the digression.

Now, to my minor, peculiar thoughts about this book: the format Mario--more likely his publishers--used to handle Mexican vocabulary. Here's two examples:
1. "He snipped the pouch open and squeezed blood over his chile relleno combination plate. "Smothered. The only way to eat Mexican food. Come tomorrow this chile and beans are going to turn my ass into a weapon of mass destruction." [Nymphos, p. 214]
2. " 'Tripas for menudo. Sesos. Lengua. You name it.' . . . It wasn't tripe, brains or tongue that I wanted." [Nymphos, p. 35]

As an accommodation to the non-Spanish readers, this style feels non-intrusive. An English reader should get that the relleno plate was chile and beans, and easily understand the second passage. In the back of my bilingual brain I notice this accommodation, but glide over it. Now look at the format adopted in Mario's latest book:

"Que bonito chante," Coyote said. What nice digs. . . "Pa'que?" What for?" [X-Rated, p.78]

Not every Spanish word is handled this way. Nada is not translated, assumedly because of wide usage. And other formats are sometimes used, like dashes around the translation instead of a literal repetition in English. But the vast majority of Spanish terms are tediously, almost inexorably follow the above format.

The style used in Nymphos required more skill by the author, and at times more effort by the reader, both desirable in a literate society. But flexibility in Mario's first work, gave way to regimentation in his second. It reminds me somewhat of a condescending approach toward Anglos. "Let's repeat it to the poor English reader, right afterwards, very obviously, so he doesn't have to use his brain to grapple with a foreign tongue," I can hear the editors thinking.

Clearly, I'm putting words in people's mouths. This may in fact be Mario's new approach to dealing with monolingual readers. Since I'm not one of them, I can't complain as such. I'm simply ranting as a bilingual that this format draws more attention to itself in its didactics than his previous style, making me very aware of its usage and taking me out of the story, not a desirable literary feature.

Notwithstanding its peccadillo, do check out X-Rated Bloodsuckers. Then you will also learn what tapetum lucidum means.

Second: Fellow Bloguista Dan Olivas also previously highlighted Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream, from UNM Press, the second collection of border/migration chronicles by Sam Quinones.

If you enjoy investigative reporting--hard facts and wonderful trivia--this book is a must. It's historical in that it details anomalies like the rise and demise of Elvis-velvet paintings, and it is insightful in the wealth of personal narrative Quinones collected over many years of communicating with Mexican immigrants.

In our ignorant era of anti-immigrant hate-propaganda, billions-for-border-patrols and the attempted elimination of U.S. bilingualism, I have an added reason you should check this very readable book: because you work with mexicanos. I recommend this book (plus his True Tales From Another Mexico) to those of you--Chicano or otherwise--who need to know more about the mexicanitos you teach, the immigrant families you service or the expatriated machos you sell to.

Face it: Americans, including Chicanos, don't really have much prior knowledge about the mexicano. We have stereotyped ideas about why they came, what their aspirations are, what they hope their children's futures will be.

For instance, my previous assumption was that many mexicanos who send money back to Mexico will return or retire there. I even had a student this year who repeatedly retorted to my criticizing her poor attendance with, "My dad says we're going back to Mexico one day, anyway."

It's only from Quinones' book that I learned how and why this aspiration has instead resulted in Mexican ghost towns filled with custom-built homes financed by immigrant dollars, homes that are occupied maybe twice a year by expatriates whose ties to the motherland weaken with each year they spend in the U.S. Many become permanent residents of their adopted country.

This knowledge led to my adjusting discussions with immigrant parents about their kids' schoolwork. One parent was surprised I knew so much about Zacateca migration, about his upgrading his home there, about my prediction that he might never return with his family--all things garnered from an informative read of Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream.

Visit Quinones's website for more information.

Third: I've been accused of being a homophobe, but I like to think it's just cultural vestiges of my muy macho-ness. I do admit queer lit is even lower on my list than vampire novels. This means that added to my weaknesses as a book reviewer, I've little knowledge of novels written by or featuring lesbians. So, when I picked up Like Son (Akashic Books), by Felicia Luna Lemus, I wouldn't have been surprised to not like it, or not finish it, something I rarely do.

But this is one of the most captivating, literary novels I've read in years.

Set against a thematic backdrop of historical figure Nahui Olin (the mesmerizing cover photo), Like Son feels like a novel only a Chicano, una mujer escandalosa as Lemus calls herself, could write. That it is considered a jewel in the transgender circuit unfortunately may mean many in the Chicano-reader world will never enjoy the experience of Lemus's great writing.

Yes, even a homophobe will find considerable merit in the well-developed, complicated plotting in this coming-of-age story that engaged this hetero from beginning to end. And you won't even have to set aside your abhorrence of lesbo scenes. This is one fine work.

The novel and author have been greatly praised by the literary world and there's no point in my attempting to outdo them. Check her website or the publisher's for yourself.

Fourth: Wings Press, publishers of Cecile Pineda's Redoubt, describe her book like this: "Imagine Woody Allen, Lewis Carroll and John Barth with a feminist surrealist twist." From my read, I'd suggest something more like: "Imagine Paul Auster, Samuel Beckett and a flashback of your best mescaline trip, through a totally female introspection."

This book is heavy on the experimental, as it's called. Plus, if you can't spell existentialism, if you easily tire of free-flowing prose, however well presented, and if you'd rather be story-led in the manner of Acevedo's publishers, stay away from this one.

But if you're a writer or a serious reader, looking for prose that takes you to the type of places where few have successfully kept your attention before, pick this one up. As the publishers further describe it, Redoubt is "Told in the voice of a lone holdout standing guard on an unnamed frontier. Redoubt addresses questions of conception and birth, gender, war and the slouch toward Apocalypse. Structured like a jazz riff, it takes as its thematic underpinnings the dictionary definitions introducing each section."

If I'd read that, I doubt I'd ever have opened its pages. Again, to differ with the publishers, here's my version: "Told through the mind of one unfathomable woman permanently relegated to warn of imminent invasion by the Enemy, Redoubt will carry you into an emotional maelstrom where Apocalypse would seem like liberation, in contrast to the heroine's timeless solitude. Enmeshed in an existence more Huit Clos than Sisyphus's most dreaded nightmare, it will carry your unwilling Self into niches of life never described in any dictionary."

Redoubt is a road many readers--forget about just Chicanos--wouldn't want to take. Of course, many of us have no idea what the labors of childbirth or the daily grind of repressed-but-one-day-liberated females might be like, either. We males would not be lesser males for learning about that. Redoubt takes you there; it is as close as I've ever come to "being one" with a woman, through the pages of a book.

You can find out more about Cecile Pineda and her other works at

That's enough for a return post. If you're one of our readers who has no life and nothing better to do on Father's Day, I'd be interested in comments about my approach to these works. Of course if you have a life, please go enjoy that, instead.


Manuel Ramos said...

Well, I like to think that I do have a life, and am about to go out and enjoy it, but I had to say that although you eschew the title "reviewer," these were good reviews, homes. Glad to see that you are branching out in your literary choices.

Anonymous said...

Informative takes on four diverse books. And, c'mon, have we come to expect more from RAYO. Their books (mostly) are not designed for el Pueblo, rather those readers who don't want to get their hands y lenguas dirty...

Lisa Alvarado said...

Rudy! Welocme back! And yes, your macho rep is still intact, despite the fact the you were moved by a compelling story about trans identity and the struggle to be oneself.

(Vato, I still suspect that there's a smooth soft center underneath that crusty carnal exterior, Mr.I-teach-grammar-school-kids and-go-the extra-mile.)

Gina Ruiz said...

Welcome back Rudy! Love your pensamientos on these books!

You owe me a tequila...


Daniel A. Olivas said...

What do you mean you suck at reviewing? I prefer reading your thoughts on books than most of the "professional" reviewers out there. Welcome back!