Tuesday, May 14, 2019

New from Feminist Press in July

Review: Claudia D. Hernández. Knitting the Fog. NY: Feminist Press, 2019.
Michael Sedano

You’ll have to wait until July to read Claudia D. Hernández’ Knitting the Fog. The publisher, Feminist Press, awarded Hernández its Louise Meriwether First Book Prize. Per the publisher’s website, prize-winners tell “much-needed stories that shift culture and inspire new writers.” Hernández does that with Knitting the Fog.

“Immigration” occupies a fluid place in United States attitudes, at the most elemental level, a reader is “for” immigration, or “agnostic” on immigration. People who think immigrants are el cucui aren’t going to be readers of Knitting the Fog and that’s a shame. Those tipos much-need Hernández’ stories to shift their thinking.

The author’s no Mexican. Claudia Hernández left Guatemala at ten, boated across the Rio Bravo in Texas, and made her way to Los Angeles with her mother and three sisters.

The little girl who got here speaks three languages, writing this book in English with accompanying Spanish, occasional Poqomchi’, and dips into Mexguatinglish and Gerigonza for particular occasions. As a teacher, the author meaningfully includes speech and language into the narrative. Indeed, the intercultural scene in the book's California section will engage teachers with immigrant students.

Like the fog of its title, the narrative style of Knitting the Fog unfolds with gentle understatement that imbues even riotous action with a clear-eyed observer’s dispassion. Hernández eschews big words and adjectives, while making sure a monolingual doesn’t miss too much when the text includes Spanish or Poqomchi’, providing appositional translation.

You remember that line about unhappy families all being unhappy their own ways? Hernández’ family was unhappy because the father is an abusive alcoholic. Mother, three daughters, the drunk, live in a tiny place. She can kick him out for a night but she can escape him only by fleeing pa’l norte for three years when Claudia is seven. She vows to return, leaving her girls in care of an aunt and grandmother.

Trauma lasts a lifetime and this parental separation stuns the little girl and her sisters. For the author, her numbness persists through the accounts of life in Mayuelas, the town, and Tactic, the mountains where she knits the fog and is happiest.

There’s page-turning anxiety even though you know the ending and even though the writer doesn’t augment the bare story of three women on the road with coyotes. The mother is not just a bear, she’s a nightmare.

This daughter loves her mother out of childhood innocence but as an adult comes to learn what influences the pesadilla of kneeling on lentejas for hours in a show of dominance and control in a lesson about a child’s powerlessness. But my summary is all dramatic. Claudia just kneels there. The writer allows herself a single adjective. The reader sits there stunned and rereads the compact narrative.

Knitting the Fog is that kind of book where a reader is forced to stop and read again. An immigration story about human beings, about girls with body image concerns, adolescents with cultural gaps longing to fit in over here, a girl with a strict mother, a woman with a heart in the mountains of Guatemala and a life over here.

Claudia D. Hernández is a poet and she uses poetry to transition into new territory, summarizing, settling open issues, foreshadowing developments. For example, Part II, the narrative of the journey, lays out scenes with a protective mother, sexual tension from a priori predatory men, a woman with undiagnosed depression, how to pee in a ziplock bag on a northbound bus. Once the travelers arrive at the river, poetry gets them across. And the narrative picks up again, on this side.

Knitting the Fog takes the structure of a palindrome, it starts there and ends back again in Guatemala. The journey home, to the motherland home, also journeys into the author’s life where elders reveal secrets and readers put clues together. Trauma pounded that woman’s spirit and her decision was to ensure those girls would never go through anything like that. That’s a human story, it happens to be an immigrant’s experience, too.

Claudia D. Hernández is a writer with a poet’s sense of comprehension. Her story of immigrating from Guatemala into Mexican Los Angeles fully comprises its award-winning accolade that Knitting the Fog, in Louise Meriwether’s honor, “continues this legacy of telling much-needed stories that shift culture and inspire new writers.”

Wait for it.

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