Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border

Octavio Solis. City Lights, $15.95 (158p) ISBN 978-0-87286-786-4
In this debut memoir, playwright Solis delivers top-notch vignettes of his youth with riveting imagery and empathy, recounting—and embellishing, he says—memories of growing up brown in El Paso, Tex. Framed as a series of retablos (“a devotional painting [depicting] a dire event... which the person survives thanks to the intercession of the Divine. At once visual and literary, they record the transgression, the divine mediation and the offering of thanks in a single frame, [like] a kind of flash-fiction account of that person’s electrifying, life-altering event”), the chapters capture poignant scenes with both the innocence of childhood and mature hindsight: after recounting mispronouncing “ocean” in front of his whole class, Solis concludes, “To get the pronunciation right in the end, I had to get it wrong in the beginning.” That mature perspective is alive to structural injustice: of discovering a border crosser during a game of hide-and-seek, Solis notes, “I’m hiding for fun. She’s hiding for her life.” He displays his talent in startling descriptions: the “dog who wears his tongue on the side of his mouth like a scarf,” the act of “taking English and dropping its chassis and adding some hot rims.” These brilliantly told stories of missteps and redemption are a treat. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 11/05/2018
Release date: 10/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-9826-6383-4
MP3 CD - 978-1-9826-6385-8
Compact Disc - 978-1-9826-6384-1
Book - 978-0-87286-788-8
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