View Blog

A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Milagro Beanfield War - my review

Que Viva Snuffy Ledoux!

I read this book 35 years ago for the first time when I was fifteen years old. It remains one of my all time favorites. A friend recently pointed out that I was like Amarante Cordova. I always considered myself to be more of a Jose Mondragon.
After re-reading Milagro Beanfield War, this timeless piece of literature ranks among the best stories I have ever read and, why I consider it such a great demonstration of artistry and craftsmanship.

Milagro Beanfield War is an enchanting story, told by a man who has a deep and abiding respect for the people he wrote about. His descriptions of the colorful characters and the beautiful landscapes reveal a man who is faithful to describing northern New Mexico Latino culture with clarity and sensitivity to all their quirky nuances.

Nichols reminds me why I love the northern part of the state so much. The rugged terrain is as breath-taking beautiful as its hard-scrabble inhabitants. I am convinced their vibrant culture and world view has been shaped by the land in which they live. Their ingenuity and tenacity are not as caricatured as you might be given to conclude according to Nichols' descriptions. Their bravado, sense of pride, chutzpah are not an exaggeration at all. Moreover, extraordinary things do happen up there and what is even more unusual is that is is not seen as anything out of the ordinary at all. Nichols does such a fantastic job of describing the terrain that he reminds me why I love Northern New Mexico - Taos in particular - so much.

Plainly put, this story is entertaining, comical and it sheds light on yet another group of Americans whose peculiarities spice up an already delicious story.

I felt a connection to all of the characters. However, if pressed to choose one, I believe my favorite would be the immortal Amarante Cordova who buys bullets for his antique .45 with food stamps.

Aside from Pacheco's huge, white pet pig that continually escapes and wreaks havoc in Milagro, the cast of characters include;

Joe Mondragon, the sawed-off banty rooster. The protagonist who unwittingly starts the war when he decides to irrigate his little bean field - of course the symbolism should not be wasted here as beans cause gas and Joe's little field caused a big stink.

Bernabe Montoya, the tired though politically astute sheriff whose comic-tragic life is measured by making mountains out of mole hills and mole hills out of mountains,

Seferino Pacheco, the illiterate old man who can nonchalantly critique Steinbeck, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Platero, Asturias, Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda but spends the lions' share of his time haplessly chasing down his wayward, errant pet pig,

Onofre Martinez, the one armed enigma who lost his arm to a fleet of butterflies and whose claim to shame is marked by having a son become a state police officer,

Charlie Bloom, the Harvard Lawyer cum honorary Chicano and publisher of a little news paper called 'The Voice of the People,'

A host of bad guys led by the evil, Ladd Devine III, an equally pugnacious, little white man whose size belies his ambitions, and

the women of Milagro who range from a pebble-tossing granny to loyal, devoted and equally nutty, delightfully powerful women.

These characters represent the tapestry of Milagros' comedic bravado and cloaked angst with its temperaments and dispositions.

I have read that some people do not like Nichols' depiction of the dominant culture and actually take exception to what has been described as the 'white man's burden.' Such detractors are really missing the point because the story is about a nostalgic look at a culture and way of life that is quickly waning. As a case in point, Onofre Martinez articulates the point quite eloquently (p 150)when someone makes an off handed comment about gringos;

"'Wait a minute!' Onofre Martinez stammered excitedly, emotionally placing his hand on Ray Gusdorf's shoulder, 'This is my neighbor, and he is a gringo, not even a little bit coyote [half-breed:]. But he's been in the valley as long as I remember, and I consider him to be of my people. And that white man over there told us these things about the dam and the conservancy and showed us the maps, I consider him of my people too, even though he is a lawyer, even though he speaks funny Anglo Spanish you can hardly understand. But I believe he at least tries to speak the truth,and a lawyer who does that should get a big gold medal to hang around his neck. I don't consider Nick Rael to be of my people because he works against my interests... So, I don't believe this is a brown against white question. This is a only one kind of people against another kind of people with different ideas. There are brown people and white people on both sides...People are people...The brown people and white people on our side are better people because they are on the correct side, that's all..."

While many of the antiheroes in this story happen to be Anglo and the protagonists are mostly Latinos, the story would not change if the protagonists happened to be a group of backwater whites who were facing similar circumstances. Consequently, I don't really understand why someone, anyone would get ruffled about a white author writing about bad white guys. Apparently, Lonesome Dove doesn't evoke the same sort of bristled criticisms and, for that reason, I find the attacks on John Nichols unwarranted.

John Nichols has created a masterpiece, attentively woven with its muted colors of incredulity, tempered fatalism and brilliant splashes of hope.

I sincerely hope his magnum opus is not discounted because he has the temerity to celebrate the true essence of what is unique about being an American; diversity.

Finally, If you like magical realism, this book is perfect for you.

ps: There's nothing wrong with being like Amarante Cordova - although I still consider myself more like Joe Mondragon. And, hey Tony! You are crazier that Pacheco's pig!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

American Lion - My review

I approached this book with some reservation because I was already aware of President Jackson's history regarding treatment of Native Americans and his stand on slavery. I did however come away with a few realizations - from a perspective that I had not previously known.

Jon Meacham detailed the changes that Jackson implemented regarding the Executive branch - his examples include;

1] Jackson's usage of the veto as a political tool coupled with his expansion of executive powers and establishment of the presidency as political force which did not exist prior to Jackson's tenure as President of the United States [POTUS],

2] being the first to completely replace his presidential cabinet thereby establishing that those members served at the pleasure of the president.

3] his introduction of legislation (Force Act) to affect change and to forecast his preparedness to act in the event someone intended to break up the union. In other words, threatening something extreme in order to get something generally perceived to be less benign.

4] his usage of executive branch to force policy change (Banks)

5] his usage of the media for fomenting his ideas and for advancing his agenda.

6] his reference to the voting populace as a mandate to implement his populist ideas - or perhaps, appealing to the masses in order to implement his agenda.

7] invoking the spoils system he was the first to dismiss federal office holders en masse.

Allowing for tempo-centric considerations regarding his bigotry, his fervent nationalism and passionate voice for the common (white) man, Meacham painted a fairly accurate picture of a man who, judged according to the prevailing sentiments of his times - and by people who shared a common Northern European heritage - he would have been a great man. His willful, obstinate, fiercely loyal nature served him well.

The Roman philosopher Herodotus said, "Soft lands breed soft men." Andrew Jackson is a good example for that axiom; he was, to be certain a tough man and the genteel world of the Washington of his time certainly proved to be a place where he could push his way around without much appreciable resistance. Perhaps the greatest nuance of his time was that he could get his way regardless of the opposition. It appears the opposition soon learned the value of having a medium (the printed press) in order to mount an effective opposition.

If any of this sounds at all familiar, I suspect it is because the author is looking back at the nineteenth century with his feet firmly planted in the 21st. Andrew Jackson's presidency seems to be quite familiar with the administration of President George W. Bush.

In short, it smacks of Rovian politics and, - to me - this is where Meacham fell short; he did not detail how such powerful nuanced re-interpretation of presidential power could have come from such an uneducated man. The constitutional law behind Jackson's vision is powerful and highly academic and yet, it seems he just had a great head for constitutional law. It makes me wonder whether it was in fact Martin VanBuren who was the brains behind the operation. We will never know from this book.

Unfortunately, the aberrant leanings president Jackson held, even during his time, were already proving to be distasteful in nineteenth century America. His deathbed statements regarding Heaven not being exclusively a realm for whites only indicates he was cognizant of the inherent injustice for slaves in the world he was living and preparing to leave shortly.
Also, once the crisis of nullification had been averted the first time, President Jackson wrote about the potential role that slavery was certain to play in the future (six days before he would appoint an obscure country lawyer - Abraham Lincoln - to a low Federal Postal position in Illinois.)

Old Hickory predicted that slavery would eventually lead to a civil war.
Unfortunately the president's prescient nature was accurate but he did not see himself as the instrument that would bring such an abomination to an end. While the book is an interesting read, I did not find it too cumbersome as others have alluded to. I also have a difficult time dismissing this account of his life as a 'white-wash' as other readers have contended. There are many accounts in the story which address the unfair treatment of Native Americans and his stand on slavery. For anyone to ignore that Andrew Jackson was an example of and a product of his time is to fall into the same tempo-centric trap that he fell into. Consequently, while slavery and Jackson's forbearance of long-standing treaties with the sovereign Indian nations were the order of his day - application of 2009 standards in retrospect are just as unmerited as the sins his modern-day critics are frowning upon.

To me there is a greater lesson to be garnered in looking back upon history; the wrongs can be reflected upon with an eye toward ensuring that such similar errors may be more easily understood and even avoided in the future. And, there are plenty of lessons to be learned. I could not help but notice the similarities of nationalism and invocation of populist themes in order to affect change as evidenced in our past presidential administration.
It strikes me that the themes which resonated so strongly during the popular Jackson Administration were recently echoed by the Bush II reign as well. So too were the voices of opposition. This not to imply that bigotry exists towards at the same level today as in 19th century America however, there is no denying that similar shadows persist toward Latin American immigrants and Muslims in the paranoiac, post-9/11 America we live in today. The ultimate question in this or any democracy is whether majority rule trumps minority rights.

For my part, this was decent book and, while I would recommend it, it will not rank among the best books I have read. It is nonetheless, a pointed study about what happens when strong-minded personalities enter the office of president. It also demonstrates how fluid the description of the office can be and moreover, how mercurial personalities can effect the outcome of history - but, owing to contemporary experiences with our own presidencies of late, we already knew that.


Monday, October 26, 2009

A Prayer for Owen Meany - by John Irving - my review

I've always had a tentative relationship with my religion. Like many, I take comfort in established, ritualized practices. On the other hand, I have a tough time with some of what I consider to be loopy mandates outlined by the Catholic Catechism.

One aspect about A Prayer for Owen Meany definitely touched on Faith; how I reconcile the difference between knowing that G_d exists; and believing that his word is what has been faithfully communicated through the Bible.

Couple that with my mistrust for 'the government' and my love for the Constitution and I have the perfect setting for an exploration of what happens when the two mix.

Owen Meany is a Christ-like figure - the reluctant messiah who, for whatever reason - is tapped to make the supreme sacrifice; he is to die. It causes me to ponder how Jesus must have felt as he knew what was going to happen and how he dealt with that impending eventuality of his demise for a 'greater good.'

And what of altruism? How can one reconcile voluntary termination of one's very life when to do so involves an act so selfless that it means termination of life as we know it to exist in this dimension. It begs the question, is altruism really voluntary at all and moreover, does it make any sense?

What about those left behind? John Wheelright's retrospective recounts the life of his enigmatic friend and the events that precipitated his death. He is preoccupied with whether the senseless act of violence that killed Owen could have been avoided - whether the collision course was one of divine providence or merely the product of a self-directed destiny. In the process, Johnny's story reveals the struggle between faith and reality; for Johnny it was one of knowing the end result and looking back; for Owen, it was one of knowing the end result and moving toward it. While both took a lifetime to complete, I am not sure who suffered more in the end.

If this is a parallel story of Jesus of Nazareth and there are/were other people with whom he shared his earthly existence then, their spin on the chain of events that led to his death and how they perceived it opens a whole new story. I can easily surmise that their personal interpretations might vary and the depth of their grief drives them to revisit the 'greatest story ever told' for the rest of their lives.

There are also many symbolic parallels throughout the story as well. For instance, Owen Meany's initials might be related to the letter Omega - as in the Christ's declaration of being the 'alpha and the omega.' His relationship to 'John' - might this be a reference to the beloved apostle alluded to in the New Testament? How about the Mary Magdalene, perhaps an alliterative parallel to Hester - 'the Molester'; maybe an allusion to the Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne and the attendant consequences for having dared to love a man she could never have. How about her ability to evoke emotion and enjoy adulation of her fans. Yet despite her rock-star appeal, she was powerless to save the man she loved from with his date with destiny?

So many questions arise like;

1] Is it easier to bitch about my government when I really have problems with my G_d? Civil disobedience beats the shit out of apostasy right? My government can jail me however, according to Pascal's gambit regarding the existence of G_d; violating the treatises of my faith can doom me for eternity.

2] Is this why fundamentalists work so hard at setting a status quo in their ever-changing world?

3] What do you do when your messiah - whom you never realized to be your messiah - is now your messiah and he is gone? You no longer can see him in the flesh. Is this the point of embarkation for the trip we call 'faith'?

4] How about the irony involved in being killed by someone else whose practiced religion calls for your destruction - even if you are the messiah?

I think about mistrust of my government which also played a role in Owen's death, the zealots and the existence of evil.

Like John Wheelright, I am a religious outsider. The struggle with my faith, striving to make sense of the religion of my birth. I take in my countryman's sacrosanct professions of faith and come away unconvinced.

Among my fellow Christian believers, there is a sea of difference where one set of perspectives takes precedence over another. Those who currently hold sway doggedly embrace the notion of a vengeful G_d that endorses 'an eye for an eye.' By convention, these practitioners of faith invoke the notion of self reliance as their excuse for turning a blind eye to the plight of a poor. Since G_d only helps those who help themselves, poverty must be an indication that such individuals are sinners - abandoned by the creator and therefore - of no consequence. The G_d of Abraham - whose eye is on the sparrow - is unmoved at the growling stomach of starving child.

Only in America do we protect an impoverished unborn human's right to be born into a mean world where they are guaranteed denial of equal access to education, food and a decent quality of life. We abandon them to the mean streets of what so proudly we hail as the greatest country on earth only to hunt them down years later. They are perfect fodder for the alter of object lessons because we prosecute them and even execute them in far greater numbers than members of the middle and upper class. We conveniently deny along the way that offenses committed by the poor had anything to do with the crimes perpetrated by religious approbation of avarice, wholesale exclusion and pin-pointed bigotry. It does make me wonder just what a messiah might make of it all and that is another reason why Owen Meany's character moves me.

I freely admit my bias; I am a John Irving fan and this is the book that did it for me.

I know Irving thoroughly studied the work of Charles Dickens so his story-telling utilizes techniques invoking craftsmanship reminiscent of that prolific storyteller. Irving's writing skill is second to none. He delivers a thought provoking, haunting narrative that leaves me continually revisiting this story.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is a meaning-of-life book of the highest order. It doesn't give us answers. It gives us questions to ponder - something infinitely more valuable. It informs. It frustrates. It entertains. It evokes a broad range of emotions. It has the potential for commuting what seems at first blush a life so common into a glimpse of the divine. It is the story of one man's epiphany and his ongoing struggle to reconcile faith with reality. It is a book of revelation - all at once apocalyptic and painfully redemptive.

Any book that can communicate on so many different levels is a book that will stand the test of time. This is why I consider this story among the top three books penned by any living writer I have read to date.

This is only part of why I love Owen Meany and why, - like the opening line,

"I am doomed to remember a small boy with a wrecked voice..."

This is undoubtedly, my all time favorite book.

Happy Birthday Kristin. This book review is dedicated to you.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, October 23, 2009

Life of Pi - my review

**Please note: this review contains spoilers**

"Life of Pi" is the story of a 16 year old boy named Piscine Patel who shortened his name to "Pi" after suffering untold taunts by his peers who jeeringly mispronounced his name and called him 'pissing.'

Pi is the son of a zoo owner in India who decides to sell off his animals after becoming disenchanted with the current political situation in his home land. Many of the animals that have been sold are in transit by cargo ship which Pi and his family are on when the ship suddenly capsizes en route to Canada where the Patel family is moving.
Pi is the only Human survivor. The ensuing story recounts two parallel stories recounting the tale of his survival during his 227 days lost at sea.

The longer story is about how he is accompanied by a Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker), a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a rat.

The shorter one is one of tragedy where he witnesses the murder of his mother.
The conclusion is left to the reader to decide. The story involving the animals is highly detailed so it is difficult to discount, However, it is also so incredible that it is difficult to believe.

There is a difference between prevarication - the act of lying and confabulation - the act of making a story up as it is being told. While my experience has shown me that when people do not tell the truth and moreover, when they choose to tell a lie, the good ones tend to mix the truth with the lie. Thus when any semblance of the truth is presented, it tends to lend credence to the lie as well. As a result, I have found that when it is mixed together, when you buy the truth you also accept the lie.

Thinking about Pi, I am left to wonder whether the entire elaborate story is nothing more than his psychological attempt to erase the trauma of watching his mother murdered and cannibalized. Most people never been in a life and death situation which required them to consume another Human's flesh - and in Pi's case, his own mother's flesh. But I would consider it entirely logical that, it might be a terror of unimagined proportions to deal with such a reality while either at sea as Pi was or once he was rescued.

To that end, I find myself wanting to believe the first story but dreading the thought that the confabulation is Pi's attempt to explain something his consciousness has forced him to forget.
This is a fascinating story that I never imagined could or would happen and I commend Yan Martel for doing such an artful job of telling it.

It is the kind of story that makes you want to keep reading and the second story only comes at the end so it hits you in the gut when you begin to imagine the possibility of it even being true.
The second story's introduction so late in the book is a major shock and I think the first story could have easily been sufficient.

Ultimately, the conclusion is left for the reader to decide. Like it or not, the chosen conclusion will be the determinant as to whether the reader is an optimist or a pessimist, a pragmatist versus realist. Personally, I keep jumping back and forth. I'll probably have to read it all over again.

Never the less, having read the book to its conclusion, I am left wondering; is it prevarication or confabulation?
I believe that is what good fiction should do so, I wouldn't change a thing.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Killing - By Dave Grossman - my review

This disturbing book explores the implications behind killing a Human Being. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman delves into historical documents and references various psychological treatises to develop an understand how and why people resolve actively taking of a life.

Contrary to what one might think, reference the topic matter of this book, "On Killing" is hardly anything about celebrating or justification to be sought when killing another Human Being. Rather, it intelligently deals with the implications and consequences for the taking of a life.

This is not a 'blood & guts' kind of book that glorifies killing. It is none the less fascinating because I don't think most people really think about what it means to take a life and have to live with the consequences once that has occurred.

As someone whose past vocation once called upon me to be prepared to take a life, I appreciate Grossman's thoughtful approach to such a difficult topic.

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Unforgiving Minute - By Craig M. Mullaney - my review

When I saw the title of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. It is a line from my favorite poem entitled, "If" - written by the English poet, Rudyard Kipling.

Craig Mullaney offers an insightful, informative account of his years as a Westpoint Cadet, Rhodes Scholar, Infantry/Airborne Ranger and Soldier who served in Afghanistan.

His writing is engaging and has a talent as a story teller. His recounting of the events seems convincing and not at all contrived. I appreciate his humanity and thoughtful approach in his descriptions of what life was like in Afghanistan. Most of all, I appreciate that this book is not presented as some sort of recruitment tool for the US Army as it is not an indictment of the ongoing wars in the Middle East.

This book is not filled with blood and guts and the violence is not gratuitous by any means. It is my sincere desire that the policy makers, military strategists and politicians realize what a wealth of knowledge and wisdom there is to be gained from seeking counsel from citizen soldiers such as Craig Mullaney.

I loved his response when queried by an US Naval Academy cadet who pointedly asked him, "What do you think, sir that you would have done differently?" after hearing Mullaney's recounting the events that led to his first loss of a fellow Army Ranger who was under his command.

He said,

"The best thing we could have done for Afghanistan was to get out of our Humvees and drink more green chai. We should have focused less on finding the enemy. and more on finding our friends."

I take great comfort in knowing that the Army has dedicated, intelligent and conscientious Americans serving in its ranks.

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 16, 2009

Edgar Sawtelle - my review

If you are looking for a pick-me-up DO NOT buy this book. I'm borrowing a Southpark line, "You killed Edgar you bastard!"

This book had the potential to be one of the best books ever and it turned out to be a total waste of time. For the first time in my life, I actually regret spending my hard-earned money on a book. I just want to know who the editor was and what the hell the publisher was thinking when s/he gave the green light for publication of this book.

Admittedly, there are some points in the story that are absolutely mesmerizing. I particularly liked the chapter entitled, 'Almondine'. The anthropomorphic descriptions were great but, in the end, difficult to believe. I love my dog Poe but I just do not see his deep philosophical thought processes behind those coffee colored eyes.

Also, the story about Henry's kindness could so easily have been a turning point. In short, he gets robbed, puts the kid and dogs up for a while and ends up with two expensive dogs for his troubles.

Unfortunately, the book is really a tragedy that has been marketed as a coming-of age-story. That's why I bought the book and that's why I felt ripped off. These are tough economic times so, I must admit, I was looking for a book about redemption. I wanted to read about a hero who overcame great odds and, if it included a little bit of magical realism then so be it. Disappointingly, the author tipped his toe in the water but never just jumped in any of the pools he dabbled in.

According to the jacket, there are breath-taking descriptions that are pervasive throughout the book. In reality, the book has a smattering of descriptions of the variety alluded to in the jacket. Who is the person that wrote such a specious jacket synopsis anyway? Probably the same kind of dolt who writes obituaries in some local rag.

There were several places where word usage was a bit pedantic and sentence structure clunked - so much so that I had to re-read quite a few sentences in order to get the gist of their meaning. At one point I wondered if Wroblewski's phrasing meant to mimic the sentence structure of a deaf person (however, since Edgar is mute and not deaf, I conclude his sentence structure would be like that of a hearing person - then again, I don't sign) but it didn't seem to happen with any regularity, The clunky wording just seemed to happen randomly.

I found the first two hundred pages a bit cumbersome at times and found myself pushing through in anticipation of what was yet to come. While the book did seem to pick up after the half-way point, it got better. Then it seemed to consume itself - much as the fire did at the end. There were too many loose ends to my liking. For instance, the notion that Claude got away with murder didn't set well with me. Yes, he did die in the fire but, how would the rest of his world ever really know to what extent was actually involved in his brother's demise?

I don't necessarily like books that end 'happy.' However, I don't like books that breach a topic and fail to address it either. For me, that is where this work falls. It is loose on the paranormal breaches. They titillate but in the end, they seem to be added for effect and no real purpose. I am still left scratching my head over the old man's ghost in the barn; he spoke with great technical detail to Edgar but remained silent and failed to come through with any advice when Edgar sought it.

I understand Wroblewski's (and many other authors for that matter)desire to establish his own, unique voice. I understand that he wants his work to stand out alone and not be dismissed simply as another story that echoes Shakespeare. I also understand his contention that the story of Edgar Sawtelle is one that preexisted Shakespeare's Hamlet and yet, there is something disingenuous about his claim as he seems to follow a Shakespearean formula with one difference - Wrobleswki's ending. Ironically, the work is kind of like the mysterious poison. Shakespeare is Wroblewski's poison to be handled delicately, used to achieve a selfish end, destructive by its very nature and capable of causing death even when it is disposed of.

It is still Shakespeare but different - somewhat akin to plucking off the flower from the stem and grafting another flower in its place. There is something oddly displeasing about putting a dandelion on a rose stem.

Reading Wroblewski is like going to a four star restaurant and having the chef deliberately sabotage the dessert by piling on a load of salt - ostensibly (in accordance with the author's attached interview responses in the back of the book) because he wants to shake his fist at the universe to declare that he is unique. Plainly put there are stories that are timeless and, there are stories that are not stories at all. The Sawtelle family started out as an uninteresting,simple family whose lives were carefully documented and then summarily dispensed of so that they would once again disappear into obscurity.

No lesson. Nothing. Well, maybe one; guys whose names include the letters 'g-a-r' are doomed to die by poisoning. How did Shakespeare say it? I'll paraphrase - something about strutting and fretting on the stage - a story told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

Doubtless, David Wroblewski has some definite skill in describing his subjects with enviable creativity however, With an ending like that, perhaps sticking to computer programming is better advised. Why tell such a beautiful story and then sabotage it with such a sloppy ending?

Why would anyone who had the potential to reach out to his audience squander such a golden opportunity? I have stated my reason for buying the book and now, I feel like the victim of a 'bait and switch' swindle.

The ending is as enigmatic as Claude's character and, because of that, I say, keep your day job Wroblewski. I'm going to have a tough time parting with my money to purchase any more of your books.

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Glass of Water - Jimmy Santiago Baca - my review

I love Jimmy Santiago Baca's poetry so, when I was walking around the book store today and, "A Glass of Water" caught my attention, I sat down for a quick sip. It didn't take long for me to decide to buy the book. This is his first novel (according to the jacket) and it is incredible. It was so engaging that I read it entirely in one sitting - a 4 hour drink to be exact.

I won't give any spoilers so, my synopsis is deliberately brief. The story is about two brothers whose divergent paths re-converge at the story's end. This 215 page work attests to Baca's powerful story-telling abilities.

His prose is even more enjoyable as it echoes Baca's passion and accomplishment as a skilled poet. There are moments in the story where the writing is lyrical and rich in details - something only a poet can do.

The story line tangentially details the plight of undocumented Mexicans and, if I have any regrets, they would be that the underlying story - the bigotry that so many Americans harbor against Mexicans was not delved into more deeply. For my part, the story is great but I was left wanting to know more. There are parts of the story that could have been expanded and elaborated upon quite a bit more without making the book unnecessarily long (eg. the brothers' childhood relationship, ancillary characters such as the man with nickle-tipped boots, the land owner, Carmen and her work, the concentration camps).

The story deals with tension, strife, romance, angst, violence, revenge intrigue, regret, rage and forces of compromise. While the protagonists' character development were sufficient to carry the story, their development was more reflective of the title; drinks that only left me thirsty. I wanted to know more.

I am not sure what the title has to do with the story and, at least for this reader, a drink was not enough.

This book could easily work out to be part of a series because, there remains so much more to tell.

Labels: ,

PeoplePC Accelerated ISP Access

Powered by Blogger