The Gates

Chuck Wachtel, Author Viking Books $23.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-670-83886-8
Complex questions of identity pervade this resonant tale of a lonely man's efforts to redefine himself in New York and war-torn Nicaragua in the late 1980s. Primo Thomas, after a brief relocation to New England, has returned home to the Lower East Side to resume his job of teaching English to recent immigrants. The son of an Italian-American mother and an African American physician father, Primo has always felt somewhat alone, even before his parents' deaths. Now divorced, pensive and increasingly isolated, Primo, nearing 40, can neither reconnect to daily routine in the old neighborhood nor accept its many changes. As he struggles to make sense of his life, a friend signs him up for a teachers' tour of Nicaragua. Through his experiences there and through his relationships with the tour guide, Angelita, a Sandinista teacher, and with one of his New York students, Carolina, a Nicaraguan emigre, Primo undergoes a series of painful and violent but ultimately hopeful changes. Wachtel writes with feeling and insight as he investigates large social and spiritual issues as well as tiny details of his characters' interaction and growth. His depiction of anonymous, small-scale heroism-both in the extreme conditions of Nicaragua and in the mundanity of New York-is honest and inspiring. This vivid, poetic narrative manages to make what is essentially a novel of ideas as captivating as a thriller. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/1994
Release date: 11/01/1994
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-14-015231-9
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