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 Piercing and eloquent coming-of-age story from novelist- boxer Salas. Salas had two big brothers he adored. When he was 11, his mother died, leaving him primarily in the care of his brother Al, his father (who was often away in a bar), and his brother Eddy, who was at college. Al was a Golden Gloves champion and taught Salas how to box, and they became even closer when Eddy committed suicide. Al, who had shown a disinclination for work ever since he faked insanity for an Army discharge, began attempting to involve Salas in petty crime. Salas, torn between his idolized brother and his desire to do right, trained hard in the ring (here penning some the best boxing scenes since Leonard Gardner's Fat City, 1969) and studied hard. As he grew, his role and Al's slowly reversed: Al became deeply involved in buncos, theft, and heroin, and Salas attempted to steer him to a healthy way of life. Salas's photographic re-creation of the 1950's seedy Oakland bars, lowlifes, and vice squads from which he tried to rescue Al could make a book in itself. Eventually, Salas won a boxing scholarship to college, worked at night to support his family, and published a novel to great acclaim (Tatoo the Wicked Cross, 1967). Meanwhile, brother Al grew older and was unchanged, shooting junk, doing penitentiary stints, and, in order to collect welfare cash, having nine children--all of whom became addicts and alcoholics, four of them committing suicide. Salas took several of Al's children under his own wing but in vain. The greatest part--and the heart--of Salas's story are his childhood memories, which are comparable to Neal Cassady's The First Third (1971) but rendered with a far more deft sensitivity and poignancy. Beautifully written, gritty, and deeply human; maybe Salas will return to regular publishing with the debut of this outstanding memoir.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1992
ISBN: 1-55885-049-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Arte Público
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1992