Synopses & Reviews
My parents always told me I was Mexican. I was Mexican because they were Mexican. This was sometimes modified to Mexican American,” since I was born in California, and thus automatically a U.S. citizen. But, my parents said, this, too, was once part of Mexico. My father would say this with a sweeping gesture, taking in the smog, the beautiful mountains, the cars and houses and fast-food franchises. When he made that gesture, all was cleared away in my minds eye to leave the hazy impression of a better place. We were here when the white people came, the Spaniards, then the Americans. And we will be here when they go away, he would say, and it will be part of Mexico again. Thus begins a lyrical and entirely absorbing collection of personal essays by esteemed Chicana writer and gifted storyteller Kathleen Alcalá. Loosely linked by an exploration of the many meanings of family,” these essays move in a broad arc from the stories and experiences of those close to her to those whom she wonders about, like Andrea Yates, a mother who drowned her children. In the process of digging and sifting, she is frequently surprised by what she unearths. Her family, she discovers, were Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition who took on the trappings of Catholicism in order to survive. Although the essays are in many ways personal, they are also universal. When she examines her family history, she is encouraging us to inspect our own families, too. When she investigates a family secret, she is supporting our own search for meaning. And when she writes that being separated from our indigenous culture is a form of illiteracy,” we know exactly what she means. After reading these essays, we find that we have discovered not only why Kathleen Alcalá is a writer but also why we appreciate her so much. She helps us to find ourselves.
"Novelist and short story writer Alcal (Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist) writes essays about everything from her family's Mexican, crypto-Jewish history to boilerplate pieces about the function of the writer. The bulk of her writing is steeped in Mexican history and culture. In general, the analytical essays in this collection are stronger than the more personal pieces, which seem raw and unpracticed for an experienced writer; unnecessary details are interjected; for example, a comment on the videotaping of her mother's funeral service appears for no apparent reason in the middle of a piece that is, ostensibly, about the power of singing to bring people together. On the other hand, Alcal displays an intellectual curiosity that has led her to think and write creatively about less personal matters. Her essay on the Opata peoples of Mexico is fascinating, and in another essay, she masterfully blends the harrowing experience of Andrea Yates, who drowned her five young children, with the mythic stories of Mexican folklore. For all that, the collection is haphazard and far too broad, including everything from a travel diary of a trip to Tepotzln to an unpublished e-mail written to a friend after the 9/11 attacks." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
KATHLEEN ALCALA is the author of a short-story collection, Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist, and a trilogy of novels set in the Southwest and nineteenth-century Mexico: Spirits of the Ordinary, The Flower in the Skull, and Treasures in Heaven. Born in Compton, California, to Mexican parents, she now lives near Seattle, where she teaches creative writing.