Names on a Map: A Novel
Names on a Map: A Novel
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Annotation: The Espejos's lives are irrevocably transformed during the Vietnam War, including Rosario, the dying family matriarch, Gustavo, the rebellious oldest son about to receive his draft notice, and Xochil, his sister. Contains Mature Material
Catalog Number: #5195969
Format: Paperback
No other formats available
Special Formats: Mature Content Mature Content
Publisher: HarperCollins
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition Date: 2008
Pages: 426 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-06-128569-2
ISBN 13: 978-0-06-128569-1
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2008275439
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Told through multiple perspectives, Sáenz's novel explores the intimate thoughts and events of the Espejo family as they confront the imminent effects of the Vietnam War on their beliefs, choices, and lifestyle. Tension builds in the house as Gustavo e oldest son ceives his draft notice; his twin sister develops a relationship with a man who has voluntarily enlisted; and the family matriarch dies suddenly, leaving the household in emotional turmoil. Writing in a sparse narrative style, Sáenz draws on many archetypes of the Vietnam era: the conscientious objector, the long-haired rebel, the patriotic father, and the worried mother. Pairing these traditional perspectives with a distinctly Mexican American culture lets the reader view the turbulence of the 1960s through fresh eyes, and while the alternating stories can sometimes feel truncated, they combine to create a rich, conflicting, and ultimately heartbreaking saga of a family's loyalty and love for one another.
Kirkus Reviews
A sweeping epic about the choices a Mexican-American El Paso family makes during the Vietnam War. Saenz ( In Perfect Light , 2005, etc.) uses the Espejo family to explore the effect of war on immigrant America, with characters alternating perspectives on the war in short, often overly lyrical chapters. Octavio, the patriarch, is an intellectual striving to instill pride and love of learning in his family. Meanwhile, his wife, Lourdes, is concerned with what will become of her children, part of a generation on the cusp of upheaval. Octavio is at odds, in particular, with his oldest son, Gustavo, a popular rebel with little respect for authority and an easy ability to create trouble at every turn—especially for schoolmates who disagree with his politics. Much to Gustavo's chagrin, his beautiful twin sister, Xochil, has fallen in love with one of his enemies, and she struggles between her loyalties to her brother and her own ideas and feelings. Meanwhile, a soldier in Da Nang who knew Xochil keeps her in his thoughts as a way of coping with the destruction and death he is forced to witness every day. And Gustavo and Xochil's younger brother, Charlie, unnerved by the changes taking place in his world, takes solace in maps and globes, feeling secure only when he knows exactly where his beloved family members are. Charlie is right to be concerned—over the course of 1967, his beloved grandmother Rosario finally succumbs to the illness that has kept her bedridden. And when Gustavo gets his draft card, he defies his parents and sister and runs off to Mexico, his ancestral homeland. With both Rosario and Gustavo gone, the family must figure out where they stand, and if they will be able to come together as a unit. Saenz deftly captures a mood, but his obsession with introspection bloats the family story.
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Reading Level: 9.0
Interest Level: 9+
Names on a Map
A Novel

Chapter One

A Family

El Paso, Texas, Saturday, September 16, 1967

An unsettling calmness in the predawn breeze.

A hint of a storm.

The faint smell of rain.

A coolness in the air.

Summer has lasted and lasted. And lasted.

Four o'clock in the morning.

The house is dark. The members of the Espejo family are in bed. Some are asleep. Some are restless, awake, disturbed. Each of them alone, listening to their own interior breezes.

Octavio—husband, father, son—is asleep. He is lost in an unwelcome dream, a gust of wind kicking up the loose fragments of memory, grains of sand in the eye. He is struggling to see. He is struggling to understand what his father is saying to him, his father who has been dead for more than three years. He has had this dream before. His father is trying to tell him something, give him words of wisdom or a piece of advice or some essential bit of information he needs to survive. Maybe his father is speaking in Spanish. Maybe his father is speaking in English. It is impossible to tell. His father's lips are moving. But the words? Where are the words? His father is young and he, Octavio, is a boy—small—and he understands that they still live in Mexico. All his dreams take place in Mexico. Mexico before the fall. They do not yet live in exile. When he wakes, Octavio will not remember the dream.

Lourdes is awake. Sleep is not something she needs—it is something she endures. She is listening to her husband's mumblings. She is accustomed to his dreams. He has never been a calm sleeper. Whatever disturbs him by day will hunt him down as he sleeps. She shakes him gently, comforts him. "Shhhh, amor." His mumblings recede. She smiles. When he wakes, she will ask him about the dream. He will say he does not remember. You do not want to remember, that is what she will think, but she will say nothing and smile and ask him if he wants to know what he was mumbling. He will say it does not matter.

She looks at the time on the alarm clock and wonders if Rosario will make it through the day. "Maybe today I will die. Oh, today let me die." Rosario repeats her refrain every day. She recites the lines as if she is in a play and she waits for Lourdes to answer, a one-woman Greek chorus: "Today, I will die. Oh, today, I will die." And then they will pause, look into each other's eyes—and laugh. It has become a joke between them—a joke and a ritual. Lourdes does not want to think about what she will do when the old woman dies. She has become addicted to caring for her mother-in-law. But it is more than an addiction. So much more than that.

Rosario, too, is no longer asleep. Every morning she wakes to the darkness of the new day. It is a curse, an affliction she has suffered for years, this lying awake every morning with nothing to do, this measuring of the hours that her life has become, this searching the room with eyes that are failing, this knowledge that you now inhabit a body that is shriveling and a mind that is ever alert, but a mind that lives now only in the past. She tries to think of something else, something kinder than this thing that is her life. Is this a life? But, today, she can think of nothing kind. Kindness has exiled itself from her world.

She is remembering the day her husband died, a perfect morning, the garden bathed in honeysuckles. "I'm going to read the paper," he said as he stepped into the backyard. "And then I'm going to take a nap. And then, who knows, I might just die." He laughed and kissed her as if she were still a girl.

He did read the newspaper.

He did take a nap.

He did die.

It was she who found him. She sees herself trying to wake him. She sees the smile on his face. Bastard, you left me here. I don't forgive you. Oh, today let me die.

Xochil, the only daughter in the house, is twisting and turning in her bed. No rest or peace in her sleep. Like her father, what is left unresolved tracks her down like a wounded animal. She is arguing with herself. She wants this boy. She is yearning to let him love her. She utters his name—Jack—and just as the name slips out of her mouth, she becomes still and quiet.

When she wakes, she will think of this boy, picture his face, his lips, the look of want in his eyes, blue as the sea. She will picture his hands, larger than hers but trembling with the same want that is in her. She will shake her head. No, no, no, no, no. And then she will reach under the bed and take out the picture she keeps as a comfort.

She will stare at the picture. It is not an image of Jack, but a photograph of her and Gustavo and Charlie. They are safe, her brothers, the harbor to which she's tied her boat. She is smiling, Charlie is laughing, and Gustavo is gazing past the camera. She always wonders what Gustavo is looking at. His eyes are staring at a future. That is what she will think to herself. The future. Let it be beautiful. Let it be as beautiful as you.

Gustavo and Charlie are sleeping in the room down the hall.

Gustavo, half asleep, half awake, wonders which he prefers, the sleeping or the waking. He wonders, too, if today is the day the news will arrive. He has been waiting for the news for what seems an eternity. The waiting, the pacing in his mind, the paralysis, the endless litany of cigarettes, the impossibility of escape, the inability to come up with a solution. The waiting is a limbo, the one he swore he did not believe in. Day after day, he hides the apprehension.

Names on a Map
A Novel
. Copyright © by Benjamin Saenz. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Names on a Map by Benjamin Alire Saenz
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

The Espejo family of El Paso, Texas, is like so many others in America in 1967, trying to make sense of a rapidly escalating war they feel does not concern them. But when the eldest son, Gustavo, a complex and errant rebel, receives a certified letter ordering him to report to basic training, he chooses to flee instead to Mexico. Retreating back to the land of his grandfather—a foreign country to which he is no longer culturally connected—Gustavo sets into motion a series of events that will have catastrophic consequences on the fragile bonds holding the family together.

Told with raw power and searing bluntness, and filled with important themes as immediate as today’s headlines, Names on a Map is arguably the most important work to date of a major American literary artist.

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