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The People of Paper


The People of Paper Cover

ISBN13: 9780156032117
ISBN10: 0156032112
Condition: Standard
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Federico de la Fe discovered a cure for remorse. A remorse that started by the river of Las Tortugas.

Every Tuesday Federico de la Fe and Merced carried their conjugal mattress past the citrus orchard and laid it down at the edge of the river. Federico de la Fe would take out his sickle and split open the mattress at the seams while Merced sucked on the limes she plucked from the orchard.

Merced sent Federico de la Fe across the river to cut fresh straw and mint leaves while she pulled straw, wet with urine, from the open mattress.

For the first five years of their marriage Merced felt no shame in having a husband who wet his

bed. She got used to the smell of piss and mint in

the morning. And she could not imagine making

love without the fermenting stench of wet hay

underneath her.

When Little Merced was born, Merced joked about Federico de la Fe giving up his cotton under-briefs in exchange for cloth diapers like the ones their daughter wore. But instead both child and husband slept in the nude, curled around Merced. The ratio of mint leaves to hay was increased; and although Merced feared chafing, she spread white sand on

the bed to absorb the moisture.

But Merced grew impatient when Little Merced learned to use the chamber pot and Federico de la Fes penis continued to drip on the sheets. “This is the last straw Im putting into this mattress,” she told Federico de la Fe at the river. “A wife can only take

so many years of being pissed on.”

Federico de la Fe went to the botanica to find a remedy, because he could not think of anything sadder than losing Merced. The curandero behind the counter gave him a green ointment to rub on his groin and two boiled turtle eggs to chew, a prescription designed to cure his enuresis.

As Federico de la Fe chewed on the shells and meat of the eggs and spread the salve, he felt the weight of a distant force looking down on him.



The medication failed. My mother got up from the bed and wiped the wet sand from her back. She left my father as he slept and I stared at her long and tangled hair.

 When my father awoke and discovered that my mother was not in the house or in the river washing herself, his sadness began.

“Merced, it is just you and me,” he said with a voice that was sore and full

of sadness.

 My mother was gone and my father chased goats and sheep to bring me milk. At night, instead of sleeping nestled between my mothers breasts, I slept next to my father and felt the wet warmth that had driven her away.

It was not until I turned eleven that my father discovered a cure for his decade of sadness, a cure that he never revealed to me. With his sadness the cure also took away his need for washed sheets and fresh straw and mint leaves.

“If only I had stopped when you were a little girl and your mother was still here,” he said, but his sore voice had healed.

Two weeks after losing his sadness, my father told me to put my things in the pillowcases that my mother had stitched. He said that we were going to Los Angeles—where he could work in a dress factory

and I could go to school and learn about

a world that was built on cement and

not mud.



Half an hour before the Guadalajara Tag Team title match began, I went into Satoru “Tiger Mask” Sayamas dressing room to review our strategy. His mask hung on the side of the mirror while he sat on the couch shuffling his flashcards.

“Burro,” he read from one side of a flash card and then flipped it to read the hiragana writing. Satoru Sayama had mastered Brazilian jiujutsu, aikido, and kendo, and was now working on the ancient romantic art of Spanish.

I went over the setups for the flying cross chop and the diving plancha attack.

“Hai, hai,” Satoru nodded and continued with his flash cards.

 As I left Tiger Masks dressing room

I heard a voice coming from a crack in the brick hallway that had grown into a hole.

“Señor Santos?”

I looked through the hole and saw a man with a young girl behind him holding two pillowcases.

 “We are going to Los Angeles, but before we go I want my daughter to see the last of the Mexican heroes.” He lifted his daughter so I could see her and then put her down and walked away.

From the top rope, as Tiger Mask held down La Abeja Negra—so I could deliver my diving plancha—I saw the girl and her father eating roasted peanuts. I delivered the plancha and then tagged Tiger Mask, making him the legal man in. Tiger Mask executed his Japanese tirabuzon submission hold and the peanut shells fell from the girls lap onto the adobe floor where her pillowcases rested.

I thought that perhaps I could follow the girl after the match. But she had come too late in my life; I was an old man and she was just a young girl with flowered underwear. Instead, I tagged, so someone else could watch over her.



When Merced left, Federico de la Fe fell into a depression that was not cured until ten years later. An itch had developed on the back of Federico de la Fes hand and no amount of scratching could relieve it. He resorted to hand-feeding opossums and sticking his bare fingers and fist into beehives. The bites from

the opossums and the stings from the honeybees

temporarily relieved the severe itching. But it was

not until Federico de la Fe resolved to stick his hand into the wood stove—where Merced used to cook tortillas and boil goats milk—that the itch completely disappeared.

Federico de la Fe put his hand in the embers until it hurt so much that he could not feel his sadness and instead smelled only his singed flesh. After he wrapped his hand with an old scarf and rubbed on the green ointment that the curandero had given him, he wrote down all the things the fire had cured:


1. itch

2. bed-wetting

3. sadness

Federico de la Fes only regret was that he had not discovered fire ten years earlier. Every night, when the sun hid underneath the flat earth and Little Merced slept on the dry straw bed, Federico de la Fe went into the kitchen and lit the stove so his remorse would not return.



My father said that before we could go to Los Angeles we had to see the last of the Jaliscon wrestling heroes and partake in the long tradition of lotería. I dragged the two pillowcases as I followed my father to Don Clementes arena. I walked through the hallways, while blood from the mornings cockfights seeped into the cloth of thepillowcases.

I remember my father lifting me and making me look at a man who wore a silver sequined mask. Through his eyeholes

I could tell that he was a very handsome man, but a sad one with a lonely life.

In the arena we watched the match from the third row. My father bought me a bag of roasted peanuts and I asked for limes to squeeze into the bag.

“Your mother used to eat limes all the time,” my father said. “They started rotting her teeth.” I promised not to eat too many. “Just this time,” I said, and he conceded two limes from his brown travel bag.

I ate the roasted peanuts soaked in lime juice and watched Santos tag Tiger Mask and step out of the ring. Perhaps it was my imagination—or the stench of the dead roosters underneath the seats—but

I felt Santoss sad eyes staring at me.

After Santos and Tiger Mask defeated the Abejas Negras, we left the arena and followed a group of old ladies to the lotería tables in the cobblestone park at the center of the city.

Copyright © 2005 Salvador Plascencia

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

blackmoldhouse, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by blackmoldhouse)
I became addicted to limes after finishing this book, full of grief at the passing.
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(3 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)
Ursula Marinelli, January 8, 2013 (view all comments by Ursula Marinelli)
This is my all-time favorite book!
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
Kathryn Hathaway, January 16, 2010 (view all comments by Kathryn Hathaway)
Surreal, character driven, a new voice.
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(2 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

Plascencia, Salvador
Harvest Books
Loss (psychology)
General Fiction
Experimental fiction
Psychological fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
9.25 x 6.5 in 0.78 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The People of Paper Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$10.95 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Harvest Books - English 9780156032117 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Plascencia's mannered but moving debut begins with an allegory for art and the loss that drives it: a butcher guts a boy's cat; the boy constructs paper organs for the feline, who is revivified; the boy thus becomes the world's first origami surgeon. Though Plascencia's book sometimes seems to take the form of an autobiographical attempt to come to terms with a lost love, little of this experimental work — a mischievous mix of Garca Mrquez magical realism and Tristram Shandy typographical tricks — is grounded in reality. Early on we meet a 'Baby Nostradamus' and a Catholic saint disguised as a wrestler while following the enuretic Fernando de la Fe and his lime-addicted daughter from Mexico to California. Fernando — whose wife, tired of waking in pools of piss, has left him — settles east of L.A. in El Monte. He gathers a gang of carnation pickers to wage a quixotic war against the planet Saturn and, in a Borges-like discovery, Saturn turns out to be Salvador Plascencia. Over a dozen characters narrate the story while fighting like Lilliputians to emancipate themselves from Plascencia's tyrannical authorial control. Playful and cheeky, the book is also violent and macabre: masochists burn themselves; a man bleeds horribly after performing cunnilingus on a woman made of paper. Plascencia's virtuosic first novel is explosively unreal, but bares human truths with devastating accuracy. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "A stunning debut by a once-in-a-generation talent. I don't know of a young American writer more original, innovative, or intense than Salvador Plascencia. The People of Paper is harrowing and gorgeous, experimental in the truest sense: it creates new means to explore essential and timeless emotional subjects." George Saunders
"Review" by , "Salvador Plascencia weaves together the daily life details of this world and the big ideas surrounding them to a stirring end effect. The People of Paper is a terrifically original debut." Aimee Bender
"Review" by , "Plascencia's surrealistic metanovel, styled a la Garcia Marquez, is a charming meditation on the relationship between reader, author, and story line, filled with mythic imagery...readers will find it hard to turn away."
"Review" by , "[I]t's sometimes difficult to follow the plotline. But, oh, is it fun."
"Review" by , "The People of Paper is impressive on terms anyone can appreciate. Behind all the devices, Plascencia still manages to construct a classic story."
"Review" by , "The People of Paper is a novel like no other, emerging from the chrysalis of magic and imagination to create a world of letters that seeps back into the world we know and then metamorphoses into something else altogether. Calvino, Borges, and Garcia Marquez will come to mind, but Plascencia's novel is a creature of its own, firmly grounded and soaring at the same time." T. C. Boyle
"Synopsis" by , The People of Paper is an astonishing debut novel about the anguish of lost love. Author Salvador Plascencia, a "once-in-a-generation talent" (George Saunders), weaves together the stories of a large cast of colorful characters, including: a disgruntled monk, a father and daughter, a gang of carnation pickers, and a woman made of paper.
"Synopsis" by ,
"The People of Paper is a novel like no other . . . Calvino, Borges, and García Márquez will come to mind, but Plascencia's novel is a creature of its own, firmly grounded and soaring at the same time."--T. C. Boyle

Federico de la Fe is a devoted husband and father, but his lime-loving wife, Merced, abandons him, and he and his daughter, Little Merced (who also loves limes), must start a new life together. They leave their home in Mexico and head for California, where they settle among a community of flower-pickers. Federico de la Fes sadness festers, and Little Merceds love for limes develops into a dangerous addiction.

All the while, an oppressive force bears down on the town. When the identity of this mysterious oppressor is finally revealed, the story takes an unexpected turn and moves toward its magical, breathtaking end. A mesmerizing debut novel about the anguish of lost love, The People of Paper marks the arrival of an incredibly talented new writer.

"Wondrous and comically inventive."—The New York Times Book Review

"[A] charming meditation on the relationship between reader, author, and story line, filled with mythic imagery and unforgettable personalities . . . Readers will find it hard to turn away from The People of Paper. A."--Entertainment Weekly

"A nervy new voice."—San Francisco Chronicle

"[I]mpressive on terms anyone can appreciate."--Los Angeles Times

SALVADOR PLASCENCIA was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and now lives in Los Angeles. He is a graduate of Whittier College and holds an MFA from Syracuse University. The People of Paper is his first novel.

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