cover image The Desert Remembers My Name: On Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name: On Family and Writing

Kathleen Alcala, . . Univ. of Arizona, $32 (204pp) ISBN 978-0-8165-2627-7

Novelist and short story writer Alcalá (Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist ) writes essays about everything from her family's Mexican, crypto-Jewish history to boilerplate pieces about the function of the writer. The bulk of her writing is steeped in Mexican history and culture. In general, the analytical essays in this collection are stronger than the more personal pieces, which seem raw and unpracticed for an experienced writer; unnecessary details are interjected; for example, a comment on the videotaping of her mother's funeral service appears for no apparent reason in the middle of a piece that is, ostensibly, about the power of singing to bring people together. On the other hand, Alcalá displays an intellectual curiosity that has led her to think and write creatively about less personal matters. Her essay on the Opata peoples of Mexico is fascinating, and in another essay, she masterfully blends the harrowing experience of Andrea Yates, who drowned her five young children, with the mythic stories of Mexican folklore. For all that, the collection is haphazard and far too broad, including everything from a travel diary of a trip to Tepotzlán to an unpublished e-mail written to a friend after the 9/11 attacks. (Apr. 26)