Proust meets magical realism in this searching, lyrical memoir by the Mexican poet and conservationist.
“I am still alive in a fresh wound,” wrote fellow poet Octavio Paz. Aridjis (An Angel Speaks: Selected Poems, 2015, etc.) counts his own birth as a poet in a wound suffered when he was 10 years old, when a shotgun he was aiming at passing birds misfired: “Invaded by ammunition, engulfed in the smell of gunpowder, my blood hot and my right hand bleeding," he writes, "I wasn’t aware of my state until I tried to take a step and a feeling of being torn apart kept me from moving.” In this soft-spoken account, the accident transforms Aridjis from boisterous lad to a bookish solitary who turns to poetry. It would not be a modernist Latin American literary work without at least a moment reminiscent of García Márquez, and there are many here, as when a suitor rejected by his aunt takes up the habit of sitting in the town square holding a protective umbrella, “though the sky was clear.” Aridjis’ mother is central to the story, from the moment of birth through his traumatized childhood, and she could not have asked for a more affectionate portrait: “To remember her was to have her always in my own past, in the memory of my being, united, inseparably, to my self.” We also see the growing importance of the natural world in the author’s life and work: the sight of a drop of water sliding off a leaf is enough to distinguish the wounded boy from ordinary people. “I was moved by things that did not interest them,” he recalls. Readers wish only that Aridjis revealed more of his process of writing, for the passages of poetry among the prose are lovely incantations: “I / made my poem / and I recited it trembling.”
A fine introduction to a writer who deserves to be better known to English-language readers.