The Bookshelf, The Parlor, The Young Texas Reader, and the Monthly

The Texas Bookshelf is different from the The Texas Parlor, . The Texas Parlor carries "general" bookish information and non-book information and even different Texana news and notes of use to the bibliographically challenged and other nosey folks intersted in historical, literary, and cultural observations. Will's Texana Monthly may carry material from either blog, but extends itself beyond those, especially for longer compilations or treatments. The Monthly, the Bookshelf and the Parlor are all companions. So, is the Young Texas Reader which specialized on books and such things for the youngest to the teenagers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

America Libre

  Book Image    America Libre. By Raul Ramos y Sanchez. NY: Grand Central Publishing (formerly Warner Books), 2009, paperback, 373 pages, ISBN: 978-0446507752. $13.99.   Winner of the International Latino Book Award for Best Novel.  Previously issued by the author in slightly different version. Represented by the Castiglia Literary Agency.

Novelist and polemicist Ramos y Sanchez, Cuban-born and a founding partner of BRC Marketing ad agency established in 1992, adds a volume of alternative history near the line of Harry Turtledove's treatment of the American Civil War or an alternative future.  His public relations skills are skillfully employed here.  The book is sectioned into two parts, the first being "The Rio Grande Incident," but it quickly shifts away from Texas and the greater part of the three-year plot continues in Los Angeles, California and elsewhere long before the second part begins as "The Quarantine and Relocation Act." 

The first novel that comes to this reader's mind is Imperium in Imperio by Sutton Griggs published in 1899 wherein African Texans successfully establish a large chunk of Texas as an independent republic for Africans.  The other book is Fritz Leiber's 1964 A Specter is Haunting Texas which, though interesting, usually rings shallow also.  Some may allude to McCarthy's apocalyptic The Road whose inspiration came in El Paso.  But Ramos intends a regional setting, the American Southwest, and rings more deeply than Griggs and Leiber, although Texas as a literary piece of furntiture is by definition virtually all things evil.

Beyond that, Ramos' characters, though still intended as issue bearers, are more believable than those of Griggs and Leiber. Ramos begins this work of Hispanic suppression and self-assertion by placing the volatile spark in San Antonio, Texas. The plot opens with a nasty incident that balloons out of proportion as a faction of the Texas National Guard goes out of medodramatic control at, yes, the Alamo.  From there, vigilante groups form and the Texas setting is thereafter a bed of racism to occasionally drive the more simple adrenaline resource. 

As the plot shifts to LA, the principal character Manolo Suarez,has a wife Rosa and children who serve to deepen his domestic qualities and offer moderation.  Manolo is carefully lured into La Defensa del Pueblo organization by the rich, attractive, Uruguay-born Jo Herrera whose strident feminine character adds a sharper texture as she slides Mano into accepting violence as a necessary tactic.

Barrio Latinos respond with self-defense groups and rioting and the tit-for-tat violence scatters across the US.  "Anglo" US is figured as demanding segregation "camps" ala the Japanese camps of WW II and Congress accedes to the pressure.  And that's not the bottom of the pit.  However, Manolo emerges as a leader in the peoples' movement while beset with family challenges and counter-pointed by Jo.

Ramos' PR skills are asserted.  On one occasion he uses a loud jackhammer as a necessary "device" to justify the characters almost screaming a conversation.   He also deftly uses a fictional author to insert the old mythology of Spanish and Mexican control and ownership of the Southwest (much as it was a myth that the Republic of Texas and the US controlled it until the combined 400-year European/Colonial genocidal wars and thefts against the natives succeeded widely about 1880).  The struggle between stereotypes moves fast-pacedly along, and Ramos inserts occasional bits of surrealism as when an Aryan fanatic named O'Connor denies awareness that Anglos once suppressed the Irish and the German.  That one may have been humor, as if two incongruent objects occupied the same space successfully, prompting a laugh. 

In realism, Manolo confronts the plain task of keeping his job and his integrity as he transforms from patriotic American to protector of his newly rediscovered pueblo.  And there's a critical choice.  Is his family safer with him or in a "Relocation Camp" in North Dakota? - a matter Ramos treats gravely.

To no surprise, TV, radio, newspapers, the blog jocks, and other media fan the flames. The confrontation erupts into violence in Washington DC.  Before long, international connections come into play.  Eventually, as the weight of the Federal forces appear to bring temporary calm to the scene, the tense novel ends.   

Despite the necessary bi-polar racism and sexism, readers will be pulled along with the characters' challenges and well dialogued lines.  El Nuevo Alamo and Pancho Land form the final two volumes of the trilogy.  Will there emerge a Hispanic Republic?  Texas historians may wish to invoke comparative commentary with the Las Casas Revolt, Republic of the Rio Grande, the Plan of San Diego, and Crystal City.  Younger readers may be directed to Lunar Braceros by Sanchez and Pita with its Cali-Tex base.  Raul Ramos y Sanchez's America Libre is recommended for avid and new fans of the growing Tejano consciousness and those willing to look in a cracked mirror of the future. - WH


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