Recommended three times by the New York Times, and called one of year's Best Books by Buzzfeed!
Seminal moments, rites of passage, crystalline vignettes—a memoir about growing up brown at the U.S./Mexico border.
The tradition of retablo painting dates back to the Spanish Conquest in both Mexico and the U.S. Southwest. Humble ex-votos, retablos are usually painted on repurposed metal, and in one small tableau they tell the story of a crisis, and offer thanks for its successful resolution.
In this uniquely framed memoir, playwright Octavio Solis channels his youth in El Paso, Texas. Like traditional retablos, the rituals of childhood and rites of passage are remembered as singular, dramatic events, self-contained episodes with life-changing reverberations.
Living in a home just a mile from the Rio Grande, Octavio is a skinny brown kid on the border, growing up among those who live there, and those passing through on their way North. From the first terrible self-awareness of racism to inspired afternoons playing air trumpet with Herb Alpert, from an innocent game of hide-and-seek to the discovery of a Mexican girl hiding in the cotton fields, Solis reflects on the moments of trauma and transformation that shaped him into a man.
"Octavio Solis does with words and imagery, lyricism and details, humor and heartbreak what the master craftsmen and women of the traditional retablos do with wood and paint, achieving the same results: these short luminous retablos are magical and enticing. Unpretentiously and with an unerring accuracy of tone and rhythm, Solis slowly builds what amounts to a storybook cathedral. We inhabit a border world rich in characters, lush with details, playful and poignant, a border that refutes the stereotypes and divisions smaller minds create. Solis reminds us that sometimes the most profound truths are best told with crafted fictions—and he is a master at it. His is a large, capacious, and inclusive imagination. Just as the traditional retablos are objects of beauty ultimately meant as devotional pieces, Solis's Retablos will make devotees of his readers."—Julia Alvarez, author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents
Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border
City Lights Publishers 2018