THE FARTHEST HOME IS IN AN EMPIRE OF FIRE by John Phillip Santos

THE FARTHEST HOME IS IN AN EMPIRE OF FIRE

A Tejano Elegy
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A fascinating though convoluted tale of identity by former CBS and PBS TV journalist Santos—the follow-up to Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation (1999).

The author’s kin, his mother’s Lopez-Vela and father’s Santos-Garcia families, “were among the founders of the Villas del Norte, the legendary towns created in the last conquistadorial campaign in Mexican history”—what would later become a 40-mile stretch from the frontier towns of Rio Grande City to Brownsville, Texas. Santos traced documents in Seville archives pertaining to the original expeditions of Colonel José de Escandón y Helgueva in the mid-1700s to the area of South Texas that the explorer christened Nuevo Santander, colonizing it with Iberian families and violently subduing the native Indians. The author also unearthed documentation of early land grants bestowed to original Vela relatives, which had only been hinted at by his Uncle Lico, the family’s genealogical chronicler. Santos’s work is an intensive reckoning of personal dimensions, as he wrestles with his family’s mestizo identity in the New World, which was an outgrowth of longer, deeper migrations from ancient civilizations in the North African and Arabian Peninsulas, as he found out from DNA tests. These “palimpsests of worlds” reflect an enormous diversity of colors and ethnic makeup, ending up in “the cosmic mixing of races taking place in post-Conquest Mexico.” As part of his intimate journey from Texas to Oxford to New York City and back to San Antonio, the author creates a kind of ghost, or future literary offspring, from the act of automatic writing, “Cenote Siete.” C7 inhabits a distant land called “La Zona Perfecta,” moving somewhere between “flesh and ether,” and its hallucinatory chronicles of memory, offered in alternating chapters, act as a kind of muse to aid the author in navigating and understanding the fluidity between generations.

A Tejano Hesiod grapples with ancestors known and invisible.

Pub Date: April 5th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-670-02156-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2010