PositivePloughsharesSayrafiezadeh’s reality quivers seemingly months away from our own. It hinges on the recent White House administrations, which looms eerily in the background of each story’s narrative ... Sayrafiezadeh crafts this world with subtle hands, employing a first-person perspective throughout to give characters a sense of isolation. They seem different and desperate, like they can almost get out but fail to liberate themselves from an ever-narrowing presence of social and governmental systems that permeate their everyday ... The estrangement in America that Sayrafiezadeh describes is one near to our current reality. The isolation his characters try escaping or accept within burgeoning socio-political structures feels just around the corner, a stutter step we’re taking before the next volley of the American experience hits while we dredge on, most of us unaware of the increasing degrees from the center of power. The collection uncovers the illusion of progress in America, like the celebrity we never quite see make it down the mountain but swear we do.
RavePloughsharesThe stories in Chicanx writer and critic Carribean Fragoza’s debut collection oscillate somewhere between Laila Lalami’s depiction of multigenerational immigrant communities in the United States today, and María Fernanda Ampuero’s sharp, fable-like eye for horror when telling of violence against and by women. Entire lives unfold in just a few lines ... The female body becomes the shield and scythe that challenges patriarchal threat; sometimes it bleeds and sometimes it resuscitates from male brutality. But almost always female characters in Fragoza’s universe flex, chop, and levitate their way past men they no longer need. In ten tightly crafted stories, Fragoza presents a series of near-oral tradition narratives that lace vulnerability with strength and wounds with survival ... The mother-daughter connection swells across Fragoza’s collection and takes center stage in the titular story ... Time, place, and body coalesce into a collective memory that reaches beyond this mother and daughter and into their ancestral past, readying the new generation for the present, the daughter carrying generations’ worth of traditions forward ... Fragoza imagines a world where patriarchy can be eradicated and finds beauty in how Chicanx women come together. In the end, her narrators, and the matriarchs they observe, choose who belongs in their circles, whether by blunt force or love.
RavePloughsharesThese complex, interrupting layers produce a hyper metafiction that is playful and ironic like Cervantes’s Don Quixote and satirize social critiques and political violence like Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 ... This interweaving recalls the Spanish word historia, which can mean either history or story depending on the context; Apostol writes the Philippines’ nineteenth-century historia by exploiting history in frontmatter, footnotes, and postscripts, and tethering fictionalized historical figures with fictional characters on a single plane ... As we volley between footnotes and source text, opinions and first-hand experience, fact and fiction, it becomes clear that Apostol’s novel requires us to sit up, lean in, and study. It demands our active participation. In the end, The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata is intended for a Filipino audience first— with inside jokes, play on words, and regional references—and American audiences second. And that’s a definitive reason to pick it up. Apostol holds a mirror to American exceptionalism and forces us to look.
María Fernanda Ampuero, Trans. by Frances Riddle
PositivePloughshares[Ampuero\'s] sparse prose focuses on character, narrowing the distance between the body and its experience of violence. Combining structures reminiscent of fairy tales and horror films, genres that often fall back on portraying subservient women characters, Ampuero upends these conventions by decentering the male gaze and reversing tropes. Her work plays between Carmen María Machado’s queer theory and exploration of domestic violence in Her Body and Other Parties and Helen Oyeyemi’s speculative and fairy tale elements in What is Not Yours is Not Yours ... Ampuero treats each story like a different room in a house, opening one door after another. Each space slightly different than the other, we find ourselves trapped in a world we don’t want to recognize. The carnival of genre and theme, however, make us lean in and, in other moments, flinch. Physical and sexual violence drive the narratives, and there’s no attempt to pull punches from the topics Ampuero engages socially and politically. To the author’s point above, these difficult themes come from varying perspectives but are too often narrowed to the male writer. In Cockfight, Ampuero enters into critical dialogue with form and substance, paying homage while imploding the very structures that she winks to us.
Jean Genet, trans. by Charlotte Mandell and Jeffrey Zuckerman
MixedPloughsharesIt’s in the act itself of evil, in the guts it takes to deploy violence on social norms, where Genet discovers the most beautiful moments in humanity. Anything less can’t achieve the lyricism he seeks in art or life, a burden he carries on his shoulders. He finds mimesis of darkness in craft hypocritical, though, unable to go beyond superficial reproductions of the culture’s seedy silos ... What the collection lacks is a deeper understanding of the artist’s life beyond the letters, despite immediately encountering his aesthetic and sociopolitical ethos. There’s little context leading into the pieces, which could leave readers struggling to locate historical referents ... It left this reader wanting to know when Genet had written his fragments—before, during, or after his novels and plays. On the other hand, understanding Genet’s reclusive penchant, and his desire to not teach but inflame the reader, perhaps this is a wink to the cloak of mystery.
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
RavePloughsharesIt takes an intimate account like Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s memoir, Children of the Land, to refocus our attention on what matters when discussing immigration reform—i.e., the person and their family ... Castillo shares with lyrical prose his family’s experience of hiding in plain sight and continually being separated by internal and external forces. He carefully balances multiple timelines, sweeping readers back and forth between past and present ... Castillo gets us so close to the struggle of living without a home and a fluctuating identity that he achieves a universal truth in his private experience ... Another one of Castillo’s gifts, along with sliding readers into his life with a selfless touch, is his ability to enter another’s perspective ... Castillo writes missing pages of humanity into the history books of immigration.
Yoko Ogawa, Trans. by Stephen Snyder
PositivePloughsharesReaders should ask themselves what happens once the meaning of words is removed or regulated. How does this impact our ability to write and tell stories, to tell the truth? The most eerie thing about Ogawa’s story is that we don’t find out the answers to these questions ... There’s a metatextual element to The Memory Police that can, at times, take away from the characters’ journey. Perhaps not enough space was given to these parallel character’s development ... Still, though—you’re in good hands with Ogawa ... She’s patient with her story, letting it unfold along with its small cast, details revealed in due course. She could have written a political thriller but opts instead for a closer look at communities under siege by the very political forces that should be protecting them ... Ogawa hits on something real in her novel.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of Books\"The Other Americans thrusts [Lalami\'s] fiction into a league of necessary literature, along with Luis Alberto Urrea, Devi S. Laskar, Mohsin Hamid, and Valeria Luiselli ... In all, Lalami never loses the touch of human dignity in her cast of characters, allowing her to slip between points of view with ease ... Though not receiving equal voice — and I think that’s the point, they’re decentered here — the white perspective balances out the immigrant story line in the novel. Its honest rage of feeling under siege comes across earnestly in Lalami’s hands ... If the novel suffers from anything, it’s that Lalami’s ambitious project of nine first-person narrators could leave readers wanting more ... But, seen from a different angle, this uneven arrangement of voices in a single community helps make Lalami’s point of how chaotic and decentered representation continues to be for minorities and recent immigrants.\
Ingrid Rojas Contreras
RaveThe MillionsI had yet to read an account that could begin to touch on the looming presence of dread families suffered when political violence invaded private life in Latin America in the late 20th century until I picked up Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree. She weaves a tender-yet-gritty tapestry ... Men seem unreachable, mythological, yet always desired. Men also orchestrate violence, unpredictable and bloody, from a distance. So it is this \'kingdom of women\' that must rise above, in spite of men, in order to survive. What grounds Fruit is how it destroys these myths the closer we get to the violence ... Rojas Contreras shines most when she uses Chula’s naïve child perspective, emulating Colombia’s own conflicting obsession over and disgust with Escobar ... Rojas Contreras delivers a story told with honesty and empathy for her characters. As such, Fruit reads like a third novel, not a debut—confident in its delivery, earnest in its subject matter. It also bolsters a female, Latin American voice that must be heard loud and clear.