The author of this book is acclaimed, as he should be, as a new Latino voice. Born in Mexico he immigrated to California, graduated from Whittier College and holds an MFA from Syracuse University. Being heir to the American dream, he has adopted a dreamy style of writing reminiscent of Borges and Marquez.
But the setting is the less than magical: migrant camps and barrios of the less than romantic US of A. He has transformed the landscape, inventing characters from other lands and even other universes to keep the spell alive. “Ralph Landin had once spooned swastika soup in his native Hungary, feeling the sharp bends of the noodles on his tongue before they tore the walls of his cheeks.” The book revolves at times around the mysterious Mexican, Rita Hayworth: “The in-house linguist at Fox Pictures touched Rita’s tongue, teaching her to unroll her r’s and pronounce words like salamander and salad without sounding like a wetback.”
There is much to do, including wars among the chrysanthemum pickers, the christening of a blind baby psychic and the death and resurrection of Little Merced. “Froggy found Little Merced on Sunday morning, lying on her back, surrounded by lime skins.” It is viewed through the eyes of children as well as of the characters themselves. The chapters are short and don’t follow any particular timeframes but meander like a river to the sea of stories told and left to be told. The theme of emigration pulses through the book: “In all her years in Tijuana she had never managed to cross the border.”
“When we came across a white chalk line that ran from the Pacific shore to the Rio Grande, my father looked around to see if anybody was following us or watching through telescopes. When he felt that we were alone we stepped over the chalk line and walked toward a world built on cement.”
In the world of cement Little Merced and her, father Federico de la Fe, are in fact being watched by Saturn, which starts out as a planet and becomes a personage. The book never lets ordinary boundaries get in the way of the stories. The author doesn’t even mind talking to you: “You need to remember that I exist beyond the pages of this book.” And with that, at his own request, he starts the book all over again.