Finalist for the National Book Award!In this beautifully wrought memoir, award-winning writer John Philip Santos weaves together dream fragments, family remembrances, and Chicano mythology, reaching back into time and place to blend the story of one Mexican family with the soul of an entire people. The story unfolds through a pageant of unforgettable family figures: from Madrina--touched with epilepsy and prophecy ever since, as a girl, she saw a dying soul leave its body--to Teofilo, who was kidnapped as an infant and raised by the Kikapu Indians of Northern Mexico. At the heart of the book is Santos' search for the meaning of his grandfather's suicide in San Antonio, Texas, in 1939. Part treasury of the elders, part elegy, part personal odyssey, this is an immigration tale and a haunting family story that offers a rich, magical view of Mexican-American culture.
"Mexico was always an empire of forgetting," writes Santos in his elegantly crafted chronicle of one of the thousands of Mexican families who fled to El Norte during the Mexican Revolution. An award-winning documentary television producer for CBS and the first Mexican-American Rhodes Scholar (1979), Santos struggles with the destiny of "every Mexican" to either embrace or lose entirely the "hidden light left behind in the past with los Abuelos" (one's grandparents). In a story told in part by ghosts, Santos takes the reader through the Inframundo, the timeless underworld of the ancient peoples of Mexico, to find out how he came to be the scion of a now-childless family. His tale is inhabited by eclectic characters--a clairvoyant albino aunt; a great-grandfather stolen by the Kickapu Indians; an aunt who learned English from the young Lyndon Baines Johnson in exchange for cabbages and potatoes. Then there was Santos's grandfather, Juan Jos , whose unresolved death by drowning in 1939 haunts the book. Combining traditional memoir, ancient Mexican history and beliefs, personal sacramental journeys and ghostly interviews, Santos gallops across the desert mountains of Coahuila through a flood of migrating Monarch butterflies, recalls long-ago predawn breakfast rituals in a Mexican village and flies with the Aztec "guardians of time"--the Volador dancers at the 1968 HemisFair in San Antonio. His book is one of the most insightful investigations into Mexican-American border culture available.