Winner of the 2023 Soft Skull-Kimbilio Publishing Prize, a collection of short stories that elaborate the realities of a diasporic existence, split identities, and the beautiful potency of meaningful connections
Primarily told from the perspective of women and children in the Northeast who are tethered to fathers and families in Puerto Rico, these stories explore the cultural confusion of being one person in two places—of having a mother who wants your father and his language to stay on his island but sends you there because you need to know your family. Loudly and joyfully filled with Cousins, Aunts, Grandparents, and budding romances, these stories are saturated in summer nostalgia, and place readers at the center of the table to enjoy family traditions and holidays: the resplendent and universal language of survival for displaced or broken families.
Refusing to shy away from dysfunction, loss, obligation, or interrogating Black and Latinx heritages “If we flip the channels fast enough, we can turn almost anyone Puerto Rican, blurring black and white into Boricua.” Gautier's stories feature New York neighborhoods made of island nations living with seasonal and perpetual displacement. Like Justin Torres’ We the Animals, or Quiara Alegria Hudes’ My Broken Language, it’s the characters-in-becoming—flanked by family and rich with detail—that animate each story with special frequencies, especially for readers grappling split-identities themselves.
The protagonists of this powerful and cohesive collection of vignettes from Gautier (The Loss of All Lost Things) grapple with the civil rights era's legacy of violence and unfulfilled promise. The 14-year-old narrator of "Quarter Rican" misses her home in Brooklyn during a visit to Puerto Rico, where her uncle insults her mixed ancestry. "Making a Way," set in 1968, looks mournfully at the deaths of prominent civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. The next generation is portrayed starkly in "Thankful Chinese," which describes how a family regularly chows down on takeout while watching The Cosby Show, which presents a healthier and more ordered life than the one they're resigned to ("We slip the fortunes from their cookies, then toss them without reading; we already know our future"). "Breathe," set in an unspecified time, blends imagery from 1960s civil rights crackdowns with allusions to modern-day police killings of Black people, successfully collapsing past and present. In it, a woman attends an academic conference and participates in a "die-in" between panels to protest police killings of Black people, reflecting on her relative safety compared to protesters who march on the street. Often, the characters' emotions feel like the sharp tips of an iceberg, but in "Howl," about a woman who calls her mother after a breakup and wails despondently in a "Wolf" language, those feelings come messily to the surface. Gautier's flashes of familial angst and political commentary ignite each entry. This packs a stinging punch.