A sweeping epic about the choices a Mexican-American El Paso family makes during the Vietnam War.
Sáenz (In Perfect Light, 2005, etc.) uses the Espejo family to explore the effect of war on immigrant America, with characters alternating perspectives on the war in short, often overly lyrical chapters. Octavio, the patriarch, is an intellectual striving to instill pride and love of learning in his family. Meanwhile, his wife, Lourdes, is concerned with what will become of her children, part of a generation on the cusp of upheaval. Octavio is at odds, in particular, with his oldest son, Gustavo, a popular rebel with little respect for authority and an easy ability to create trouble at every turn—especially for schoolmates who disagree with his politics. Much to Gustavo’s chagrin, his beautiful twin sister, Xochil, has fallen in love with one of his enemies, and she struggles between her loyalties to her brother and her own ideas and feelings. Meanwhile, a soldier in Da Nang who knew Xochil keeps her in his thoughts as a way of coping with the destruction and death he is forced to witness every day. And Gustavo and Xochil’s younger brother, Charlie, unnerved by the changes taking place in his world, takes solace in maps and globes, feeling secure only when he knows exactly where his beloved family members are. Charlie is right to be concerned—over the course of 1967, his beloved grandmother Rosario finally succumbs to the illness that has kept her bedridden. And when Gustavo gets his draft card, he defies his parents and sister and runs off to Mexico, his ancestral homeland. With both Rosario and Gustavo gone, the family must figure out where they stand, and if they will be able to come together as a unit.
Sáenz deftly captures a mood, but his obsession with introspection bloats the family story.