...A self-described 'anchor baby,' Solis shares his memories as a brown person on the border with a keen eye and an agile way with words, endowing these snapshots from his childhood in El Paso with the visceral gut punch of Mexican retablos, devotional paintings in vivid colors on metal or wood. Solis hones each scene with striking...imagery: his grandmother Mama Concha with her rollers, red lipstick, sagging hose, and purse 'fragrant with Wrigley’s Chewing Gum'; the ghostly figure of a runner who threads his way through the book, aging as Solis ages, advancing under Solis’ curious gaze, then vanishing into a misty distance. In all, a evocative, and timely expression of border culture for every library collection.
As explained by Octavio Solis, a distinguished Latino author who has written over 20 plays, a retablo is a small votive painting commonly associated with Latin American cultures. It’s usually painted on cheap, reused metal, and it tells the story of a near-disaster that was survived only by the grace of God. By commemorating the event, the retablo can transform that story of salvation into a myth. But memory is slippery, and retelling a story, even on a buckled sheet of metal, results in embellishments and refinements. Facts become murky as names are forgotten and events misremembered. Yet despite its imprecision, the retablo expresses a profound truth not only about its maker but also the world he or she lives in. As a result, the retablo itself becomes a part of the myth as well ... It is a distinctly Latino experience in a distinctly Latino world. But this story is universal—we all grow up, and we all need to reconcile who we are with who we were. Like the images he emulates, Solis’ stories transcend the limits of borders and time.
Retablos is a different and uniquely personal project ... Solis recreates pivotal moments when he asserted his independence from parental oversight to engage in inevitable rites of passage ... many of these events could be dismissed as a motley assortment of potholes and speed bumps along the road to maturity. But Solis coaxes us into reconsidering — they are also significant milestones ... these early experiences with life and language have led to the development of a special and powerfully compassionate voice ... In these disarming retablos, he offers readers an expansive way of regarding the troubled world we live in now.