Books by Ilan Stavans

Ilan Stavans is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His latest books include Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language and The Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature.


HOW YIDDISH CHANGED AMERICA AND HOW AMERICA CHANGED YIDDISH by Ilan Stavans
Released: Jan. 21, 2020

"For readers unfamiliar with Yiddish writing, a revelation; for readers and aficionados of the language, a treasure."
A wide-ranging, eclectic anthology of work by Yiddish writers. Read full book review >
DANIEL AND ISMAIL by Juan Pablo Iglesias
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 13, 2019

"Well-meaning but simplistic. (Picture book. 4-8)"
In this picture book, two young boys living in an unidentified, presumably Israeli city happen to meet in a park and share a game of soccer. Read full book review >
I LOVE MY SELFIE by Ilan Stavans
by Ilan Stavans, photographed by ADÁL
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: March 31, 2017

"Bright but uneven, inspiring but occasionally misguided, the book is a curious intellectual snapshot with a finger over the lens: a broad cultural landscape pulled unnecessarily into portraiture."
A bit of light academia on society's latest narcissistic trend, equal parts philosophical exploration and art criticism. Read full book review >
QUIXOTE by Ilan Stavans
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 8, 2015

"Stavans brings infectious enthusiasm and penetrating scholarship to this lively investigation of a grand novel and its readers."
The 400-year history of the deeply influential Spanish novel. Read full book review >
A MOST IMPERFECT UNION by Ilan Stavans
HISTORY
Released: June 6, 2014

"A history book that wants to be Howard Zinn's A People's History of American Empire but comes off more like Larry Gonick's The Cartoon History of the United States with more savvy jokes."
Prolific intellectual Stavans and collaborative artist Alcaraz follow up and expand their first exploration of American culture (Latino USA: A Cartoon History, 2000, etc.) to examine the secret history of the United States of America. Read full book review >
GOLEMITO by Ilan Stavans
CHILDREN'S
Released: July 1, 2013

"This competent picture book addresses the problem of bullying and offers an original, if not completely successful, blend of Jewish and Aztec culture and folklore. (Picture book. 7-11)"
Stavans presents the story of Sammy and Ilan, two Jewish boys living in Southern California, who combine their individual strengths to face bullying. Read full book review >
EL ILUMINADO by Ilan Stavans
Released: Nov. 13, 2012

"Another bold, if gratuitous, experiment from an academic with impeccable credentials and a keen sense of the secrets we hold most dear."
What do you get when you cross a Mexican-born Jewish intellectual with the creator of the Rabbi Harvey comics? Surprise—it's a most unusual conspiracy thriller. Read full book review >
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: Nov. 1, 2012

"Too scholarly for some readers, but Stavans provides a relevant, fresh point of view."
Born in Mexico City and educated in a Yiddish-language school, Stavans (Latin American and Latino Culture/Amherst Coll.; Gabriel García Márquez: The Early Years, 2010, etc.) collects some of his journalistic output as a deeply engaged cultural observer. Read full book review >
GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ by Ilan Stavans
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Jan. 5, 2010

"Excellent. Longtime students of García Márquez will find fresh insights, and Stavans provides an excellent introduction for those readers new to the master's work."
Illuminating study of the first writings of Colombian literary giant best known for One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). Read full book review >
RESURRECTING HEBREW by Ilan Stavans
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 30, 2008

"A gem for readers interested in Hebrew and the politics of language."
A personal and intellectual search for the history of modern Hebrew. Read full book review >
DICTIONARY DAYS by Ilan Stavans
NON-FICTION
Released: April 1, 2005

"Delicious little essays of powerful intellectual curiosity."
Charming, loose-fitting essays about the sublime and silly pleasures of reading the dictionary. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 11, 2005

"An unusual anthology, then, well worth dipping into."
Accounts of religious persecution and exile, plus assertions of ethnic pride, dominate these 28 prose and verse selections: a collection representing the multinational minority culture that sprung from the 1492 expulsion of Spain's Jews. Read full book review >
ON BORROWED WORDS by Ilan Stavans
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

"A penetrating analysis of the displacement and internal divisions created by linguistic adaptation, but undermined by a rickety narrative structure."
An often sophisticated, more frequently discursive memoir on transnational and translingual migration from Mexican-born critic and scholar Stavans (Latino U.S.A., 2000, etc.). Read full book review >
LATINO U.S.A. by Ilan Stavans
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

"Despite some odd byways, and an occasional clumsy sentence, a cartoon history for everyone: painless, witty, and inviting."
Educational comics have an honorable history, forged in the US by the visual didact Larry Gornick, and in Latin America by Rius, to whom Stavans (Amherst) and his artist collaborator pay tribute in their cartoon overview of Latin culture's relation to the US. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Dec. 1, 1999

" The border breaks down at this collection's core. No matter how resonant the metaphor, the writers Stavans has gathered do not address cultural and political divisions as directly as the omnipresent links between power, language, and art."
A collection of "piezas de ocasion" - slim essays, reviews and prologues by South American writers looking north, and North American writers looking south. Read full book review >
THE OXFORD BOOK OF JEWISH STORIES by Ilan Stavans
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 1998

A generous collection of 52 stories from Europe, Africa, and the Americas that spans two centuries. Included are not only the world's best-known Jewish writers (e.g., Aleichem, Babel, Bellow, Ozick, Oz, Singer, et al.), but also a few most of us wouldn—t have thought of (Ludwig Lewisohn, Nadine Gordimer) and several neglected masters (the pseudonymous —Der Nister,— Brazilian Moacyr Scliar), along with newer writers (Steve Stern, Rebecca Goldstein, and the really rather phenomenal Allegra Goodman). Only a few stories (such as those by Italo Svevo, Delmore Schwartz, and Bernard Malamud) are certifiable warhorses, and the volume deserves high marks for Stavans's incisive introduction and informative headnotes, and for its preserving in such attractive and convenient form gems like Israel Zangwill's —Tug of Loe,— Natalia Ginzburg's —House at the Sea,— and Alcina Lubitch Domeq's brief, searing —Bottles.— A landmark anthology. Read full book review >
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 1, 1998

($17.95 paperback original; May; 327 pp.; 1-880684-49-7): A bilingual collection of 16 approximately contemporary stories chosen as their favorites by such esteemed translators as Gregory Rabassa, Edith Grossman, and Helen Lane. Editor Stavans contributes an imposingly learned prefatory essay ("Translation and Identity"), and the translators themselves add informative brief prefaces to such pleasant surprise inclusions as Uruguayan Felisberto Hernández's edgy "The Crocodile"; Argentinian Ana Maria Shúa's hilarious tale of domestic mayhem and embattled parenthood ("A Good Mother"); and Dalton Trevisan's droll minimalist vignette "Three Shots in the Afternoon." This high-concept anthology helpfully showcases several other lesser-known writers as well - and joins Oxford's Book of Latin American Short Stories (1997) as one of the best currently available volumes in its field. Read full book review >
NEW WORLD by Ilan Stavans
Released: Jan. 1, 1997

The pangs of cultural dislocation and the pressures imposed by both rural and urban poverty are central themes in this generous anthology of 23 stories by mostly unfamiliar Hispanic-American writers. The collection's general unevenness may be observed in microcosm in editor-contributor Stavans's savvy Introduction (an overview of the recent ``renaissance'' of such writing) and also in his story ``The Kiss,'' a tale of revenge that feels oddly dispassionate and detached. A few stories, conversely, feel unduly melodramatic, and several are only anecdotal (Danny Romero's ``Crime,'' Anthony Castro's rather wooden ``Soldier,'' Ysa T. Nu§ez's plaintive ``Broadway''). More successful pieces are distinguished by a language appropriate to their content (Erasmo Guerra's elegiac ``Last Words,'' told in a straightforward, perfectly credible pidgin English; Michelle M. Serros's ``The Next Big Thing,'' the unabashed confession of a rock music groupie, featuring a racy, witty, cynical voice). Among stories by newer writers, Veronica Gonz†lez's ``Through the Raw Meat'' transcribes with clinical and poetic precision a dreamy girl's fixation on a handsome butcher's apprentice; Sergio Troncoso's ``Angie Luna'' expertly weaves together a boy's rediscovery of his Mexican heritage with his amazed discovery of both sex and love; and Andrew Rivera's ``A Day of the Dead,'' driven by a splendidly calculated character contrast, explores with as much tenderness as irony the emotions that disturb a teenage boy required to accompany his aging grandfather on a ``graveyard tour.'' Pieces by veteran writers include Virgil Suarez's tale of spiritual possession exorcised by a neighborhood healer (``Salvation''); and Demetria Mart°nez Jr.'s harrowing ``Babies,'' a slice of down-and-out street life told in a blisteringly vigorous argot by its feisty lost-soul protagonist. Neither better nor worse than many recent anthologies with a similar intent—though it's unquestionably a bargain at $12.95. Read full book review >
THE ONE-HANDED PIANIST by Ilan Stavans
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 1, 1996

A first collection of stories, including a novella and also an autobiographical essay, from the Mexican-born critic best known for his journalism and nonfiction studies of Latino history and culture (such as The Hispanic Condition, p. 151). The unifying theme of Stavans's fiction is announced in the essay ``Lost in Translation'' (written in English), which summarizes his Jewish-Mexican origins, ethnic and intellectual disorientation, and literary ambitions: ``the mysteries of my divided identity.'' The stories, which are uniformly discursive and so muted and dispassionate they scarcely feel fictional at all, concern thinly sketched protagonists and narrators caught in dreamlike states of derangement or incompletion. ``A Heaven Without Crows'' is an imaginary letter written by the dying Franz Kafka to his friend and literary executor Max Brod explaining why Kafka wishes his writings destroyed (``nothing imperfect should survive''). ``House Repossessed'' constructs but does not develop an arresting metaphor for a girl's alienation from her own sexual nature. ``The Spot'' on a man's shirt provokes a fantasy of disease and disintegration; and ``The One-Handed Pianist'' neurotically insists she's losing one of her hands—but neither piece does much with its originating idea. ``The Invention of Memory'' posits an intriguing situation—a married woman's furtive fixation on her new neighbor—but the relationship between her loneliness and his enervation (he's a ``memory expert'' whose powers are lapsing) is never made clear. And the novella (``Talia in Heaven'') is an autobiographical fantasy in which Ilan Stavans/''Daniel Stabans''/Igal Balkoff (a revolutionary guerrilla) explores different ways of experiencing love, art, danger, and political commitment in an unstable culture where ``A Jew is always a citizen from another land.'' The impulse behind these fictions is sometimes strongly felt, but their development is murky and inchoate: They all read like component parts of a single semi-coherent, perhaps unfinishable story. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 27, 1995

A deeply considered essay on the Chicano movement's worldly Aquinas. Best known through his thinly disguised appearance as Hunter S. Thompson's drug-gobbling Samoan attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), the Mexican-American lawyer and political activist Oscar Acosta receives a faithful, and appropriately irreverent, biographical rendering in the hands of Mexican intellectual Stavans (The Hispanic Condition, 1995, etc.). Although the outlines of Acosta's story are well known, Stavans has secured access to a number of hitherto unknown sources, notably a trove of letters, journals, and literary manuscripts held by Acosta's son. These give further testimony to Acosta's abilities as an authorwhich fans of his books The Revolt of the Cockroach People and Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo already recognizedand shed new light on his profound difficulty in coming to grips with being a dark-skinned Indian in a world he suspected dealt good hands only to white players. While tracing the contours of his life, Stavans reiterates Acosta's assertion that it was he, and not Thompson, who invented the term ``Gonzo journalism,'' and he provides good evidence to suggest that Acosta should have been credited with coauthorship of Fear and Loathing, the book that cinched Thompson's fame. Acosta disappeared, Ambrose Biercelike, in Mexico in 1974. He would be 61 today, and it would be a fine thing to see the wily Acostawhom Stavans headily deems an outlaw amalgam of Robin Hood, Joaqu°n Murrieta, Gregorio Cortez, Agust°n Sandino, Subcomandante Marcos, and Che Guevarareemerge at an autograph party in celebration of this worthy appreciation. A fine, learned homage to ``the king of rascuachismo, el rey of low taste,'' a man who contained worlds, but never comfortably. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: March 1, 1995

Part history and part cultural encyclopedia, a sophisticated- -sometimes too sophisticated—discussion of Latino identity as displayed in art, literature, and popular culture. Stavans (Growing Up Latino, not reviewed) asks more questions than he can answer about Latino identity—in part, he concludes, because the Hispanic community is continuously creating itself. Drawing on the works of writers such as Julia Alvarez and artists like performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Pe§a, the author explores ``border culture,'' the state of living in both American and Latino culture. Addressing the question of whether to use ``Hispanic'' or ``Latino,'' he notes that Hispanic is used by conservatives to propagate stereotypes (e.g., sleazy ethnic drug barons), while Latino, the preferred term of self-definition, is still inadequate, failing to fully describe the major groups that comprise the Hispanic community—Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Central and South Americans. (Given this discussion, his decision to use ``Hispanic'' is never satisfactorily explained.) Stavans argues that while Latinos share the same language, there are major social differences, often shaped by the political histories of their different native countries. This thoughtful examination of the various cultures and their differences, the book's strongest element, occasionally gets swamped by extraneous material too scholarly for the general reader. Stavans is more accessible when he points to the books of Cristina Garcia and Rudolfo Anaya, among others, as examples of more human, diverse portraits of Latinos than the macho man and virginal woman stereotypes seen in pop culture monuments like I Love Lucy and West Side Story, but he also notes Hispanic cultures' tendency to deny gay and lesbian love. The author sometimes gets mired in his own hyperbolic metaphors, particularly in his magic-realism-inspired introduction, which envisions the disappearance of borders between the Americas North and South. Despite a tendency to get lost in esoteric byways, an engagingly ambitious tour of Latino culture, notable for its formidable breadth. Read full book review >