Thursday, July 23, 2009

Catching Up--Book and Reunion--Amid Pre-Macondo Jitters

I'm resigned to being a lazy blogger. This summer has been so packed with activities and tasks, and I've been in and out of town so much that I have not kept this blog up the way I had hoped. I have nothing but the highest respect for those people who blog daily. I can't even seem to manage weekly, which is what I was hoping for originally.

Part of what has made this summer a madhouse has been all the attention my new book has been getting--a very good thing from my point of view. I
nterviews and readings take time, and when placed in an already crowded schedule, they will squeeze out things like updating a blog. But aside from being important to sales of the book, they are just plain great fun. Here's a link to a radio interview on KCUR, Kansas City' NPR station.

I also did something I've never done before. I went back to Manhattan, Kansas, for my high school reunion. I had been out of touch with my graduating class. They couldn't find me, and when I would leave my contact information with the high school (as I did several times), it never made its way to those organizing reunions. Finally, an old friend from high school found me on the internet and reconnected me with my high school class. (Thanks bi
g time, Bill!)

Manhattan High School (Old that we attended on right)

Konza Prairie, the landscape surrounding Manhattan, KS
(c) Bill Curnutte

I don't know that I expected much out of the reunion. I wanted to see people again that I had known when we were very young, and that was about it. What was so surprising was the instant sense of connection with these folks I hadn't seen for decades. And my own teary sentimentality when Norman Byers, our class vice president, led us in the school anthem! We toured the old school, and when we walked into the auditorium where I had performed so often with many of these same classmates, it almost felt as if I ought to be walking up onto the stage to sing and whirl with Pops Choir or walk with exaggerated hip swings (that always embarrassed me), pig in arms, downstage singing Moonbeam McSwine's part in Li'l Abner. Very eerie sense of deja vu!

It was terrific fun, though, to reconnect with so many classmates, who have turned into very successful--but more importantly, truly nice--people. It's very odd but very satisfying to feel this sense of connection to these people who have not been a part of my life for so many years but who are nonetheless important to me, though I had not realized it. Now, we're planning the next reunion in five years and trying to stay in touch in the meantime. Go, MHS Class of 1964!

Part of why things have been so hectic lately is that I'm trying to take care of everything that needs doing before taking off to San Antonio and the Macondo Workshop next week. Very exciting! I've been fortunate enough to get into the Famosa workshop with Ruth Behar and Marjorie Ago
sín, Casa/Hearth/Diaspora. (My husband's incredibly jealous since he knows Behar's and Agosín's work from his own work in Jewish studies!) They've given us some interesting preparatory work, and the manuscripts from the other workshop members are widely varied in style and universally fascinating.

I'm looking forward to seeing the fabulous Sandra Cisneros (founder of Macondo) again and other friends, Francisco Aragón and Ellen Placey Wadey, as well as people I only know from email or from their work, such as John Olivares Espinoza, Margo Chavez-Charles, Rachel Jennings, Levi Romero, Vincent Toro, and Richard Blanco. I'm nervous, of course. I sent in drafts of poems I'm working on, as requested, not finished work. I hope that in the workshop I'll get a better handle on this book I'm writing. It seems as if I'm writing in two very different styles--and each is a departure from my usual style. I don't know at this point if I'm breaking important new ground for myself or wandering down dead-end roads stylistically.

So back to trying to get everything taken care of before I leave, especially getting all the content for Tercera Pagina to Tina Landis for the Latino Writers Collective blog. We're growing so--with new members all the time. It's wonderful to see an organization that used to just be five or six of us about to hit 50 members in number and grow beyond that.

I'll try to get an entry up soon after I return from Macondo about that experience. Until then, read and write and be happy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cristina Henriquez's The World in Half

Cristina Henriquez has won great praise for her short stories and her debut collection, Come Together, Fall Apart. The World in Half is her first novel, and what a stunner of a novel it is!

Henriquez weaves together the poignant stories of a military-wife mother whose infidelity with a Panamanian local sent her back to the U.S. pregnant, divorced, and disgraced to a hard, self-isolated life and a daughter who is dealing with that mother's early onset Alzheimer's when she discovers a hidden cache of letters from her missing Panamanian father who, rather than abandoning her and her mother, had been abandoned. The daughter, Miraflores, impulsively drops out of college to visit Panama to find her father as her mother disintegrates daily. Miraflores' search in Panama pieces together the story of her parents' love affair, even as she falls in love with the more experienced, if not much older, Danilo, a flower vendor who has taken her and her romantic quest under his wing.

In Panama, it becomes apparent that Mira is searching for herself and her mother as much as for her father. Panama itself becomes a character in this book, for Mira is learning about this unknown country that is as much a part of her heritage as the U.S. is--and she is falling in love with Panama just as she is with Danilo, who has been deserted by his own parents. She feels herself becoming a different person in Panama from the guarded bookworm she has been in the States. In Panama, she is a fuller, braver version of Mira.

As Mira's search for her father reaches a climax, so does her mother's deterioration. She must leave Panama to take up her familial duties once more. The question for the reader is, will she follow in her mother's sad footsteps and leave Danilo and Panama forever behind, as well?

Within this romantic structure, Henriquez deals with some serious issues--the desire of children of mixed heritages to claim both, racial and ethnic discrimination, the sad history of Panama's repeated colonizations, the fears of Alzheimer's engendered in the children of its sufferers, the nature of passionate love so binding that it lasts through years of denial and destroys lives.
At the end, she doesn't tie things up neatly, but neither does she leave the reader in despair for the lives of these people she has led us to care for. Henriquez and her book specialize in the quiet strength, endurance, and occasional rewards of hope, and that hope is her gift to the reader.

This is the debut of a novelist to watch for. I can't wait to read her next book. Check out The World in Half here. And happy reading.