LA MARAVILLA by Alfredo Véa Jr.


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 From attorney and onetime migrant farmworker VÇa, a bewitching debut based on childhood memories of a squatters' settlement outside 1950's Phoenix. Most multicultural stories pale next to nine-year-old Beto's boyhood in the desert with his Spanish-born grandmother--who struggles to reconcile her curing powers with Catholicism--and his pagan Yaqui grandfather--who can leave his body and fly. Okies, Arkies, African-Americans, Indians who sing Irish railroad songs, transvestites, prostitutes, the Chinese grocer and cook regard each other with suspicious curiosity. Even the Fuller Brush man here is an outsider: a mutilated concentration-camp survivor. All fling about racial stereotypes but can never get away from shared food and music, mutual respect, love. (The Mighty Clouds of Joy Church allows even sinners to tap into its electrical service; the whole community is connected by extension cords.) People live in cardboard houses and junked cars, but much of the novel is very funny; and when people do suffer, it's not from their material poverty: White Vernetta became a prostitute out of sorrow following the lynching-murder of her black/Filipino boyfriend; jealousy leads to crimes of passion; people struggle with remorse for failings toward God and man. Meanwhile, VÇa's cross-cultural translations weave enchantment as Beto's grandparents initiate him into values meant to sustain him in materialistic, nontribal mainstream USA. VÇa's uneasy mix of magic realism, essay, tragedy, broad comedy, and didactic speech never quite blends, but each element- -like the different races thrown together in the desert--forms an integral part of this astonishing fictionalized tribute.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1993
ISBN: 0-525-93588-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1993


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