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Arts & Culture

Book reviews: 'Leapfrog and Other Stories' and 'The Accidental Native'

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Leapfrog and Other Stories
by Guillermo Rosales (translated by Anna Kushner) | New Directions | $14.95 | 144 pp
 
What can a word like “homeland” possibly mean to most people living in the Unites States? Unless you’re a Native American, it means nothing. Everyone here is from somewhere else. Outside of an unscrupulous and expansive Department of Homeland Security, and the pandering political legends of displaced minorities coming back to power (this motivating dream runs from Aztlan to Atlantis), the term is more of a division than a unifying vision. No one seemed to know this more than Guillermo Rosales, the author of Halfway House, who sought his respite in reverie. The Cuban-born exile committed suicide in 1993 and wanted a lot of his work to die with him, preferably even before him. But like Franz Kafka, Rosales had his own Max Brod, a confidant who kept the author’s work alive, against his wishes—in his case his mother, who would pick his discarded pages off the floor. Indeed, the apparition of apron strings is strewn all along the lush paragraphs of Leapfrog and Other Stories, the primary piece of which is a novella written in picaresque interludes that carry comic book characters like Will Eisner’s The Spirit over the Saturday morning world of a destitute boy’s summer in post-revolution Cuba. Amid nagging political nonsense, our boy from Havana vies for pocket money while courting the image of another innocent, perhaps on the other side of the world. Written when the author was just 21, Leapfrog was a finalist for Cuba’s prestigious Casa de las Americas prize in 1968, but wasn’t published until 1994.

 

The Accidental Native
by J.L. Torres | Arte Publico Press | $14 | 208 pp
 
After the death of his parents, Rennie Falto buries his mom and pop in Puerto Rico, the land of their birth. As few good deeds go unpunished, Falto is rewarded with doubt and a cultural disarmament that claws at his existence. For starters, the newly orphaned Rennie is convinced to stay in Puerto Rico by a brilliant attorney claiming to be his birth mother. He is then set up with an academic job in a world of student protests, wild resentments and of course, tropical beauty. The nomadic infrarealist poet Roberto Bolaño—who travelled the streets of Mexico and Chile before receiving literary acclaim in Spain—felt that his children were his homeland. The dude in this book, however, feels he will find actualization by following his actual mother. So commences a roots trek that leads this young Nuyorican to a new life with snobs and squatters alike, and the unnerving rumor that the metaphorical cancer of America’s military presence on the island has resulted in a literal cancer in the people he meets. The Accidental Native, the first novel by J.L. Torres, a creative writing professor and author of the collection The Family Terrorist and Other Stories, suggests that if the metaphysical poet John Donne was right and no man is an island, that is in the end a tragedy that taunts at least some men.

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