Thursday, January 24, 2008

Names on a Map-Benjamin Alire Saenz

Names on a Map
Benjamin Alire Saenz
Harper, Feb 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780061285691

In 1967 El Paso, insurance salesman Octavio Espejo is happily married to Lourdes as they raise three children together. However, the blight in his mind to his American lifestyle is his Mexican roots; Octavio has not been back or seen his family ever since he was ferried across the Rio Grande as a child.

However, his children begin to reconsider their national identity. Teenager Gustavo has received the certified “Greetings” letter directing him to report to basic training; which in the Chicano border communities means tours of Viet Nam. He does not want to go as he is becoming aware of freedom fighting in America not Southeast Asia. His twin sister Xochil still struggles to overcome her anger and acrimony over being raped when she was twelve years old. Both wonder if America is where they belong.

This is a strong timely historical character driven thriller as Benjamin Alire Saenz enables the reader to look deep into the Espejo family whose members each struggle differently with assimilation at a time of women’s liberation, civil rights especially the growing Chicano awareness, and cutting across all is Nam. NAMES ON A MAP is insightful as the children reconsider and resist Americanization understanding the nightmare while their parents have doubts but embrace the dream.

Harriet Klausner