THE FAMILY IZQUIERDO

An instant Tejano classic.

Three generations of Izquierdos tell the story of their family and the misfortunes believed to be caused by a curse.

In 1958, Octavio Izquierdo and his wife, Guadalupe, begin building their life in McAllen, Texas. They buy a home and set up a painting and drywall business while dreaming of the good future their children will have—how these things will be their inheritance. But life isn’t always easy for the family. After discovering a goat hoof and a rooster foot buried in the yard, Octavio believes his jealous neighbor, Emiliano Contreras, has put a curse on the family. Ordinary disasters like miscarriages, accidents, and sadness are attributed to it. Years later, in declining health, Octavio is consumed by his belief in the curse, and he bounces around from nursing home to nursing home because none of the orderlies can keep him calm. His adult children aren’t sure if it really is a curse or a genetic predisposition to anxiety and susto. However, Dina, one of his daughters, refuses to leave her house after having what she believes is a prophetic nightmare showing Emiliano Contreras working with the devil to use grackles to put the evil eye on the Izquierdos. In this gloriously rich epic, we get to see a full picture of the family. Each interlocking chapter is told by a different character, unifying into a thoughtfully crafted history spanning decades. The characters, who are complex and tightly linked to one another, are enlivened by their belief in a mix of superstition, brujería, and Catholicism that feels both familiar and playful. Family celebrations like a Posada, a quinceañera, and the Fourth of July particularly highlight family dynamics. Though most of the stories focus on the Izquierdo family as a whole, there’s one called “La Milagrosa Selena” that is less a story and more a letter to the Diocese of Brownsville that advocates canonizing the queen of Tejano music, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez; it's a surprising delight.

An instant Tejano classic.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-393-86682-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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