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Book Review: Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature

By Sergio Troncoso

Latinos in Lotusland (Bilingual Press), edited by Daniel A. Olivas, is a wonderful anthology that samples contemporary Chicano literature from Southern California. What will surprise and delight its readers is the great variety of work from Chicano and Chicana writers. The panoply of characters includes pachucos, people of paper, lonely strangers, small-time journalists solving mysteries, and concrete finishers proving themselves with guts and guile in the world of work.

Three stories typify the excellent literary work of this anthology. “Gina and Max,” a story by Michael Jaime-Becerra, chronicles the Christmas eve of two misfits. The hopeful Gina and the hapless Max belong together, even as she allows herself to be in the company of vaguely dangerous characters Max befriends and tattoos. In “Drift,” an excerpt from a novel by Manuel Luis Martínez, ‘Sizzler Boy’ leaves home, ends up at a goth party with vampirelike fast friends, but what matters in this story is the ebb and flow of the narrative, itself reflective of Sizzler Boy’s self-abandonment.

Finally, in “Miss East L.A.,” Luis J. Rodríguez transports readers into the politics of the newsroom and a detective story, as Benny transforms himself from a dockworker to a wannbe reporter to a writer who solves a murder, with ganas, intelligence, and perseverance. Other standouts in this anthology include Manuel Muñoz’s “The Comeuppance of Lupe Rivera,” Richard Vázquez’s “Chicano,” Reyna Grande’s “Adriana,” and Salvador Plascencia’s novel excerpt, “The People of Paper.”

Olivas, who regularly reviews books for the El Paso Times, opens readers’ eyes to a new world of Chicano literature, beyond traditional characters and stories, to Chicanos redefining themselves today. In California, the setting is more urban, often suffused with the world of Hollywood and movies, while the protagonists of these stories run the gamut from dirt-poor to those straddling two worlds, the world of their fathers and mothers, and their own unique place in the sun. Latinos in Lotusland creates new possibilities to consider and explore for the community of readers and writers, and beyond.

This book review appeared in the Sunday book section of the El Paso Times on April 27, 2008.