Gabriel's Fire

Luis Gabriel Aguilera, Author University of Chicago Press $22 (291p) ISBN 978-0-226-01067-0
An unbuttoned self-portrait of a Mexican immigrant growing up in a predominantly Polish blue-collar neighborhood on Chicago's South Side between 1985 and 1991, this earnest memoir is based on journals Aguilera kept between ages 13 and 18. Precocious and outspoken, he plunges us into a neighborhood rife with discrimination, racist white gangs, drugs and violence. Without much guidance from his overworked parents, who seem preoccupied with their own arguments, or from his two brothers, he turns for support to a priest. But Father Tom, as presented here, turns out to be a racist who uses the ""N word,"" watches porn videotapes and fondles male students. At 13, Aguilera begins a sexual affair with schoolteacher Kim McGregory, a woman twice his age; only stern warnings from nuns in the Catholic school that he attends induce him to break it off. Despite the publisher's comparison of the book to contemporary classics of Latino life, it never really catches fire. In his stance as an idealistic adolescent rebelling against a phony adult world, Aguilera comes off as sensitive and full of integrity one minute, and indifferent and cocky the next: he joins a gang, quits his busboy job in a profane outburst, then makes a snide joke about shooting Gandhi to death. His overuse of four-letter words--often a dozen per page--may accurately mirror a macho world where cussing is cool, but it is tedious to read. Though Aguilera comes across as honest, defiant and likeable, his memoir, which closes with his mother's death and Aguilera's departure for the University of Chicago, doesn't ultimately register much personal growth. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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