LOOSING MY ESPANISH

H. G. Carrillo, Author . Pantheon $23 (336p) ISBN 978-0-375-42319-2

In Carrillo's energetic but uneven debut, Óscar Delossantos—41, alone and losing his job as a history teacher at a Chicago parochial school—has 34 days left to educate his uninterested students about what he holds to be the essentials of life: family, love and Cuba, the "Isla Belle, Belle Caribe." The sermons that follow mimic his ersatz philosophical view of history—for him, it is "space, like a series of rooms that we can just as easily step into as out of"—as they jolt from subplot to subplot while telling, in extravagant Spanglish, the history of his native island and, alternately, the tale of his and his mother's struggles as they fled Cuba for the U.S. when he was a child and Batista had fallen. Vivid local color abounds: Delossantos's mother, Amá, who owns a beauty shop, makes a divine flan con guayaba that everyone envies. Elegiac passages describing Amá's decline as she battles Alzheimer's—as the book opens, she has recently forgotten about a pot of water she put on the stove to boil and burned down her "little casa blanca"—are also genuinely moving. On the whole, however, this inchoate novel is plagued by Carrillo's clunky transitions and muddled syntax, which, while echoing the labyrinthine prose of Reinaldo Arenas, drown the reader in a flood of semicolons, dashes and narrative digressions. Agent, Stuart Bernstein. (Oct. 26)

Reviewed on: 09/27/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 193 pages - 978-0-307-48768-1
Paperback - 325 pages - 978-1-4000-7814-1
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