The Madonnas of Echo Park, Brando Skyhorse, Free Press, 2010, 199 pp
Brief news flash: Both of my cataract surgeries are now complete. I can see everything without glasses! Well, except for small print close up in poorly lit places, for which I use those reading glasses you can buy at pharmacies. I am so happy!
Now onto my review. Except for a trip on the week of Christmas, I shall be posting regularly again. Thank you for your patience.
My hand-crafted, boutique, and very special Tiny Book Group is on a project to read books set in Los Angeles. All three of us are from elsewhere, having come to LA in middle age. Echo Park is a Los Angeles neighborhood that began as a Mexican ghetto and has lately succumbed to gentrification. Brando Skyhorse grew up in Echo Park in the 1980s.
His truly wonderful novel is a successful example of a novel written as a series of collected stories featuring characters who appear again and again. By the end you know how they are connected through family and events.
"We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours." There is so much history in that opening sentence. It took my breath away. But history is the last thing on the minds of Skyhorse's characters. Their minds are crowded with fears of deportation, struggles to learn English, make a living, and assimilate.
Every living American today, except for Native Americans, is an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. I wonder how many immigrant novels have been written here. Brando Skyhorse (descended from Mexicans but raised to think that his Native American step-father was his biological father) took this often told story and made it pulse with sights, smells, tastes, loves, deaths, and the infinite variety of human longings.
The Tiny Book Group met in Echo Park to discuss the book. We ate lunch at Xoia Vietnamese Eats.
We got pastries at Masa of Echo Park Bakery & Cafe.
We strolled to Echo Park Lake to eat our treats,Stories Books to choose our next read.
All the while we talked about the book and wondered, "Where have all the Mexicans gone?"
Part of the answer can be found in this video, but most of the answers have been encapsulated in The Madonnas of Echo Park.
One more thing: reading and learning about the incident that inspired the book's title was a little piece of literary magic.
(The Madonnas of Echo Park is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)