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Synopses & Reviews
From American Book Award-winning author Ana Castillo comes a suspenseful, moving new novel about a sensuous, smart, and fiercely independent woman. Eking out a living as a teacher's aide in a small New Mexican border town, Tia Regina is also raising her teenage nephew, Gabo, a hardworking boy who has entered the country illegally and aspires to the priesthood. When Gabo's father, Rafa, disappears while crossing over from Mexico, Regina fears the worst.
After several days of waiting and with an ominous phone call from a woman who may be connected to a smuggling ring, Regina and Gabo resolve to find Rafa. Help arrives in the form of Miguel, an amorous, recently divorced history teacher; Miguel's gregarious abuelo Milton; a couple of Gabo's gangbanger classmates; and a priest of wayward faith. Between the ruthless coyotes who exploit Mexicans while smuggling them to America and the border officials who are out to arrest and deport the illegal immigrants, looming threat is a constant companion on the journey.
Ana Castillo brilliantly evokes the beautiful, stark desert landscape and creates vivid characters with strong voices and resilient hearts. Like Sandra Cisneros's acclaimed The House on Mango Street, wrote Barbara Kingsolver when reviewing So Far from God, Castillo's writing is seasoned with Mexican aphorisms and] rich symbolism. . . . Impossible to resist. The Guardians serves as a remarkable testament to enduring faith, family bonds, cultural pride, and the human experience.
The Guardians is a rollicking read, with jokes and suspense and joy rides and hearts breaking, mending and breaking again. It has...a deeply rooted urgency, expressed with a compelling mix of bruised indignation and bemused tenderness....This smart, passionate novel deserves a wide audience. — Los Angeles Times
Timely and highly readable....Castillo's most important accomplishment in The Guardians is to give a unique literary voice to questions about what makes up a 'family, ' Mexican-American or otherwise, where an independent soul can find redemption, particularly in a hostile world, and how we can realistically find 'faith, ' if we can find it at all, after we have suffered through our personal and political histories, and are still standing on this earth. This is a wonderful novel that does justice to life on the Mexican-American border. — El Paso Times
Only a gifted storyteller could portray one family's tragic struggle to overcome the barriers between nationality and dignity in a way that makes her cause own own. Does Castillo do this? Claro que si. — New York Daily News
What drives the novel is its chorus of characters, all, in their own way, witnesses and guardian angels. In the end, Castillo's unmistakable voice-earthy, impassioned, weaving a 'hybrid vocabulary for a hybrid people'-is the book's greatest revelation, even as the search for Rafa races to its dreaded conclusion. — Time Out New York
From its lyrical first lines...The Guardians invites you into the story of Regina, a 50ish virgin-widow living in a small town on the border between the U.S. and Mexico; her neighbors; her family; and the dangerous forces that surround them — the narco traffickers, the Border Patrol, the coyotes and the 'unmerciful desert' itself. The novel is earning praise for its timeliness in addressing issues of immigration, and for what novelist Cristina Garcia calls its 'literary magic.' — Orange County Register
Castillo's topical, heartbreaking novel blooms from the rugged desert soil along the U.S.-Mexican border, in a small New Mexican town perched on the fault line of the immigration controversy.... Castillo] allows her characters to speak poignantly to the harsh truths of border life....What if we didn't have passionate, lyrical writers to shine a beacon on injustice and cruelty or remind us of the dignity due all human beings? We would be poorer and more ignorant, indeed. — Miami Herald Forecast for Summer Reading
The complex and perilous life along the border between the United States and Mexico is the timely subject of this impassioned novel. Castillo uses a classic storytelling format — the search — to provide an engaging tale narrated by a poor yet fearless and wise widow trying to find her brother....this spare, sometimes profane novel provides a powerful glimpse of border lives hanging in the everyday balance. — Seattle Post Intelligencer (one of their best of the 2007 releases from June, July and August)
Castillo writes fiction and poetry of earthy sensuality, wry social commentary, and lyrical spiritualism that confront the cruel injustices accorded women and Mexicans in America, legal and otherwise....In this tightly coiled and powerful tale....At once shatteringly realistic and dramatically mystical, Castillo's incandescent novel of suffering and love traces life's movement toward the light even in the bleakest of places. Booklist (starred review)
A nuanced, vibrant look at the American experience through Mexican-American eyes. — Kirkus Reviews
The end of the month brings Ana Castillo's GUARDIANS (Random House), a fictional foray into the world of illegal immigration. The plot revolves around a Mexican man who goes missing during a crossing and his sister's efforts to track the coyotes who may have had a hand in it.-Houston Chronicle A Fictional Feast
THE GUARDIANS by Ana Castillo: The author of Peel My Love Like an Onion takes on the many issues surrounding illegal immigration in a powerful new novel in which a family's faith is tested. Wonderful ... moving ... intimate ... epic, Oscar Hijuelos told Amazon.com.-San Antonio Express-News New Summer Books
The acclaimed author of Peel My Love Like an Onion tracks the perilous lives of Mexicans who illegally cross the the U.S. for work...Castillo writes convincingly in the voices of the canny, struggling Regina....the desirous Miguel; the passion
"'The acclaimed author of Peel My Love Like an Onion tracks the perilous lives of Mexicans who illegally cross to the U.S. for work. Fifty-something Regina, a poorly paid aide in a public school on the U.S. side, is raising Gabo, the son of her brother, Rafa. Seven years have passed since Gabo's mother, Ximena, was murdered by 'coyotes,' or paid traffickers, during a crossing, her body mutilated for salable organs. As the novel opens, Rafa, who has continued to travel back and forth for work, is due to arrive, but vanishes. With Miguel Betancourt, a divorced teacher at Regina's school in his mid-30s, Regina tries to confront the coyotes who were supposed to cross Rafa. In alternating first-person chapters, Castillo writes convincingly in the voices of the canny, struggling Regina, who remains a virgin after a being widowed in an unconsummated marriage; the desirous Miguel; the passionately religious Gabo; and El Abuelo Milton, Miguel's elderly grandfather. All are sucked into a vortex of horror as the search for Rafa consumes them. Castillo takes readers forcefully into the lives of the neglected and abused, but missing is a full emotional connection to the protagonists, who remain strangely absent even as their fates are sealed.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"If, as Flannery O'Connor once said, the mark of a good story is that it resists summation, the mark of a poor one may be that a summary is better than the whole. The publicity material for Ana Castillo's disjointed new novel, 'The Guardians,' describes it thus: 'When Regina, a sensuous, smart, and endearing middle-aged virgin-widow, learns that her brother has vanished while crossing the border from... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Mexico, she and her angelic nephew Gabo embark on a dangerous search for him.' A dangerous search? Isn't that the mouth-watering smell of a suspense-filled thriller? But suspense, it turns out, is not what Castillo has in mind. 'The Guardians' does begin with a promising air of mystery. Within its first five pages we learn that Regina and Gabo have been anxiously awaiting her brother Rafa's arrival for well over a week. They both fear he's been murdered for his organs by the smuggler who was paid to bring him back and forth to the States. Gabo's mother was slaughtered that way years ago. Momentum gathers speed when Regina and Gabo hear gunshots outside her home in rural New Mexico. Could the shots and Rafa's disappearance be related? Anxiety reaches a boiling point, but then Castillo shuts off the heat, moving into a long aside about Regina's homey get-rich-quick schemes. We realize, with a sigh, that we've entered that deadly sub-genre of mysteries: the cozy. The central focus of a cozy mystery is never a crime or a dangerous search for justice; it's the ordinary lives of small-town characters. As 'The Guardians' rotates through its four narrators, we learn very little about the underworld business of crossing illegally into New Mexico or why a man over 40, such as Rafa, would want to undertake such a hazardous journey again and again. Instead, the first third of the novel revolves around Regina's dates with a schoolteacher named Miguel, who's approximately 20 years her junior. (In a piece of wild idealism, the 30-something man never comments on the difference in their ages.) We hear a lot about Regina's vegetable garden and about Miguel's semi-amicable divorce. We learn that Miguel's near-blind grandfather was discharged dishonorably during World War II because his superior officer overheard him say, 'Here los Anglos are fighting the Nazis. Over there, where I live, they treat us Mexicans as if they were the Nazis.' We find out that 15-year-old Gabo works after school at a supermarket, where his boss calls him 'El Estockboy,' and that Gabo dreams of becoming a priest. He eats as little as possible to mortify his flesh. None of these things has anything to do with Rafa's disappearance, but if Castillo had stuck to such material, and dropped the mystery after the opening chapters, 'The Guardians' might still have been a solid book. After all, the May-December romance and the humiliations of everyday racism could form a rich enough vein for conflict, and Castillo's most important character, Regina, is a jewel. A teacher's aide at a junior high school, Regina connects two groups normally separated by a socioeconomic abyss — illegal migrants and college-educated professionals. She spent her teenage years picking fields with migrant workers such as her brother, but she escaped that life of hard, anonymous labor by marrying an American soldier, who later died in Vietnam. (We are supposed to believe they didn't have sex before he shipped off.) Regina's thoughts bear traces of both white- and no-collar influence, and the contradictions between these two cultures prove endlessly interesting. 'I know I am nobody,' she says at one point, yet she dreams of taking Gabo to Italy so he can learn 'a little something about great art.' Never mind that Regina's already stretching pennies to pay their bills, or that Gabo has no interest in any of the experiences she wants for him. Grief has pushed Gabo deep into Catholicism, and his latest do-gooder project is to cultivate the friendship of an unscrupulous homeboy named Jesse, who tells Gabo that his gang can locate Rafa in exchange for a pair of new white sneakers. 'Su Reverencia,' Gabo tells his journal, 'I made a pact with the Devil.' It's at this point that 'The Guardians' goes telenovela: Gabo bleeds through his palms; a near-blind grandfather reveals he can see just fine at night; Miguel displays some sexy rodeo skills; Regina appears to find happiness; two more people disappear; and, out of nowhere, the mystery is tragically solved. Long before that bloody end, Regina visits an office in Juarez, where she sees a poster that says, in Spanish, 'The search for the American Dream could be your worst nightmare.' It would have been nice if 'The Guardians' gave a more realistic sense of how that ghoulish transformation worked. But the scenes involving bad guys never rise above cliche, and Rafa, the main victim of their crimes, never speaks to us at all." Reviewed by Marcela Valdes, who is a writer in Annapolis, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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“This is a surprising and powerful novel that captures the vulnerability and stark beauty of life in a small border town. Castillo instills the voices of her four main characters with such passion and humanity, their vitality practically crackles on the page. Unforgettable and timely, Castillo’s literary magic will charm you once again.”
–Cristina García, author of A Handbook to Luck
From American Book Award-winning author Ana Castillo comes a suspenseful, moving new novel about a sensuous, smart, and fiercely independent woman. Eking out a living as a teacher’s aide in a small New Mexican border town, Tía Regina is also raising her teenage nephew, Gabo, a hardworking boy who has entered the country illegally and aspires to the priesthood. When Gabo’s father, Rafa, disappears while crossing over from Mexico, Regina fears the worst.
After several days of waiting and with an ominous phone call from a woman who may be connected to a smuggling ring, Regina and Gabo resolve to find Rafa. Help arrives in the form of Miguel, an amorous, recently divorced history teacher; Miguel’s gregarious abuelo Milton; a couple of Gabo’s gangbanger classmates; and a priest of wayward faith. Between the ruthless “coyotes” who exploit Mexicans while smuggling them to America and the border officials who are out to arrest and deport the illegal immigrants, looming threat is a constant companion on the journey.
Ana Castillo brilliantly evokes the beautiful, stark desert landscape and creates vivid characters with strong voices and resilient hearts. “Like Sandra Cisneros’s acclaimed The House on Mango Street,” wrote Barbara Kingsolver when reviewing So Far from God, “Castillo’s writing is seasoned with Mexican aphorisms [and] rich symbolism. . . . Impossible to resist.” The Guardians serves as a remarkable testament to enduring faith, family bonds, cultural pride, and the human experience.
About the Author
Ana Castillo is the author of Peel My Love Like an Onion, So Far from God (a New York Times Notable Book), Sapogonia, and The Mixquiahuala Letters (winner of the American Book Award), as well as the short-story collection Loverboys. Her books of poetry include My Father Was a Toltec, I Ask the Impossible, and Watercolor Women Opaque Men (a novel in verse). She is the recipient of a Carl Sandburg Prize and a Southwestern Booksellers Award. She lives in New Mexico.
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