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Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border

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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 s 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. Praise for Octavio Solis's Retablos "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."--Julia Alvarez is the author of How the Garc�a Girls Lost Their Accents, /p> "The murky flow of the Rio Grande River, the border patrol we call la migra, demons, a petty crime of stolen candy, street urchins, family squabbles, eccentric neighbors, and bike rides in which dust envelops a skinny kid named Octavio Solis. When he stops peddling years later, he'll spank the dust from his clothes, but not all of it. Some of it clings to his very soul, and will cling to us, the reader, in this tender and perceptive memoir. This is American and Mexican literature a stone's throw from the always hustling El Paso border."--Gary Soto, author of The Elements of San Joaquin "Octavio Solis isn't a painter, but he ought to be. He's not a poet, but he could be. His isn't fiction or memoir but, like dreams, might be either. His vision of El Paso and the border is as though through an undulating haze of desert heat."--Dagoberto Gilb, author of Before the End, After the Beginning: Stories "Solis has written beautifully about his youth on the border, never flinching from his childish blunders, nor failing to find soul in the frailties of others. These stories soar and shimmer with poetry and a playwright's gift for dramatic compression, comedy and pathos running through them arm in arm. Retablos is deeply moving, and a joy."--Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen: A Novel "To enter into this book is like walking into a shrine, walls lined with beautiful paintings, each one colorful and visceral, depicting memories, life on the border, death and sadness and joy. This is one of the most memorable books written about the borderlands in years"-- Daniel Chac�n, author of Hotel Ju�rez: Stories, Rooms and Loops "The short-short format is often called flash fiction these days, but Octavio Solis' stories are more like slow fiction: a moment unfolds, revealing a life, a way of life, generations. He explores the borderlands, not just the streets of El Paso where he grew up, just across the Rio Grande from Mexico, but also those liminal zones between fiction and nonfiction, childhood and adulthood, and magic and melancholy. Small but mighty, these stories will stay with you long after the moment has passed."--Frances Lefkowitz, author of To Have Not: A Memoir "A retablo is a devotional painting, playwright Octavio Solis tells us. In this poignantly written, heart-warming coming-of-age memoir, Solis pays tribute to those cornerstone moments in his life, negotiating borders at once personal and cultural, with such color that the reader is left spellbound. Astonishing, what more can I say?"--Greg Sarris, author of How a Mountain was Made: Stories


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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 s 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. Praise for Octavio Solis's Retablos "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."--Julia Alvarez is the author of How the Garc�a Girls Lost Their Accents, /p> "The murky flow of the Rio Grande River, the border patrol we call la migra, demons, a petty crime of stolen candy, street urchins, family squabbles, eccentric neighbors, and bike rides in which dust envelops a skinny kid named Octavio Solis. When he stops peddling years later, he'll spank the dust from his clothes, but not all of it. Some of it clings to his very soul, and will cling to us, the reader, in this tender and perceptive memoir. This is American and Mexican literature a stone's throw from the always hustling El Paso border."--Gary Soto, author of The Elements of San Joaquin "Octavio Solis isn't a painter, but he ought to be. He's not a poet, but he could be. His isn't fiction or memoir but, like dreams, might be either. His vision of El Paso and the border is as though through an undulating haze of desert heat."--Dagoberto Gilb, author of Before the End, After the Beginning: Stories "Solis has written beautifully about his youth on the border, never flinching from his childish blunders, nor failing to find soul in the frailties of others. These stories soar and shimmer with poetry and a playwright's gift for dramatic compression, comedy and pathos running through them arm in arm. Retablos is deeply moving, and a joy."--Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen: A Novel "To enter into this book is like walking into a shrine, walls lined with beautiful paintings, each one colorful and visceral, depicting memories, life on the border, death and sadness and joy. This is one of the most memorable books written about the borderlands in years"-- Daniel Chac�n, author of Hotel Ju�rez: Stories, Rooms and Loops "The short-short format is often called flash fiction these days, but Octavio Solis' stories are more like slow fiction: a moment unfolds, revealing a life, a way of life, generations. He explores the borderlands, not just the streets of El Paso where he grew up, just across the Rio Grande from Mexico, but also those liminal zones between fiction and nonfiction, childhood and adulthood, and magic and melancholy. Small but mighty, these stories will stay with you long after the moment has passed."--Frances Lefkowitz, author of To Have Not: A Memoir "A retablo is a devotional painting, playwright Octavio Solis tells us. In this poignantly written, heart-warming coming-of-age memoir, Solis pays tribute to those cornerstone moments in his life, negotiating borders at once personal and cultural, with such color that the reader is left spellbound. Astonishing, what more can I say?"--Greg Sarris, author of How a Mountain was Made: Stories

30 review for Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    These vignettes about growing up a child of Mexican immigrants along the US/Mexico border were charming and touching and full of life. He is a beautiful writer and these stories flow easily. 4.5⭐ These vignettes about growing up a child of Mexican immigrants along the US/Mexico border were charming and touching and full of life. He is a beautiful writer and these stories flow easily. 4.5⭐️

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    With this collection of richly reconstructed scenes from his childhood and youth, Octavio Solis has created a vibrant collage of memories with an energy that reverberates throughout the reading experience. Passing through remembrances and thus musings on familial love and conflict, young passion and lust, a child's sense of freedom and constraint, racial conflicts across and alongside the border, one leaves this book a little wiser and also wondering about the lessons buried in our own stories.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I discovered Octavio Solis when Retablos was staged by Word for Word at a LitQuake event at the Elbo Room. The stories immerse you with their engaging prose, the universality of their familial characters, and small glimpses into Mexicanidad on the border. The author manages to infuse affection toward his bicultural identity and home, even when the reality was that he was growing up bicultural.ly on the border in a pretty racist environment given its proximity to Mexico and the continuous presenc I discovered Octavio Solis when Retablos was staged by Word for Word at a LitQuake event at the Elbo Room. The stories immerse you with their engaging prose, the universality of their familial characters, and small glimpses into Mexicanidad on the border. The author manages to infuse affection toward his bicultural identity and home, even when the reality was that he was growing up bicultural.ly on the border in a pretty racist environment given its proximity to Mexico and the continuous presence of the border patrol. It's comical, loving, and brutally honest. The dialogue is fast-paced (the author is a playwright). It was truly a pleasure to see it staged at this one time event and I look forward to seeing some of his actual plays someday.

  4. 4 out of 5

    David G

    Great one day read. Poetic,honest,emotional,funny...everything a life (or 20 years and the reminiscence of those two decades)should be. But also present is the environment, the threads of the tapestry, or the shades of paint. Octavio Solis is a master writer, he uses sentences and words in so many different ways. To keep the painting metaphor it is a little realism, a little avant grade,a little impressionism and a little Pollock.... Great book. Great book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Trevor Boffone

    I wish I had time to formally write something but, in the meantime, I just wanted to say how I much I enjoyed reading Octavio Solis's memoir, "Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border." The book is a perfect companion to Norma Elia Cantú's landmark "Canicula." Rather than Laredo, we get snapshots from Solis's memories in El Paso at a time when the border was more fluid and life was simpler (even if things were complicated at times). While Solis is best known as a playwright, this boo I wish I had time to formally write something but, in the meantime, I just wanted to say how I much I enjoyed reading Octavio Solis's memoir, "Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border." The book is a perfect companion to Norma Elia Cantú's landmark "Canicula." Rather than Laredo, we get snapshots from Solis's memories in El Paso at a time when the border was more fluid and life was simpler (even if things were complicated at times). While Solis is best known as a playwright, this book shows that he is just flat-out a master writer regardless of genre. If you're interested in Solis, Texas, Latinx stories, coming-of-age stories, memoir, you name it, then absolutely read this book. You won't be disappointed!

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Lozano

    A damn good book. When I finished, I closed the book firmly and dropped it on the table with the force of a heartfelt hug. Octavio’s vignettes inspired by his childhood and youth in El Paso are raw and explosive. He made me feel like I was right there with him. I felt like I knew those places, the people and the difficult relationships but it takes a great writer to remind us of the unexpected richness and complexity of those times in our lives. Poetry, darkness and the hard living of this Chica A damn good book. When I finished, I closed the book firmly and dropped it on the table with the force of a heartfelt hug. Octavio’s vignettes inspired by his childhood and youth in El Paso are raw and explosive. He made me feel like I was right there with him. I felt like I knew those places, the people and the difficult relationships but it takes a great writer to remind us of the unexpected richness and complexity of those times in our lives. Poetry, darkness and the hard living of this Chicano family on the border in the 60’s and 70’s will grab you and pull you into the writer’s world. This book is a literary and cultural achievement. Highly recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ginny

    This sensitive portrayal of growing up in El Paso's lower valley captures the rich emotions and complex culture of life on the border during the 1960s and 1970s. Solis beautifully evokes the contradictory forces that shaped life for many of us during that bittersweet time of change in a harsh environment softened by a community's kindness, humor, and perseverance.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sergio Troncoso

    An excellently written series of vignettes about growing up in El Paso, which mixes memory and fiction. A homage in tightly written prose to familias and best friends and the Lower Valley and those of us who loved growing up in El Paso, however poor, despite the pain and confusion, and certainly because of the adventure and independence of being a young brown kid on the border.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Harmon

    I loved this book. Great writing. Vivid storytelling. The vignette about Diary of Anne Frank reminded me of everything I love about theatre and brought me to tears.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sam Fisher

  12. 5 out of 5

    DARRELL D INGRAM

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

  14. 4 out of 5

    Linda Hoover

  15. 5 out of 5

    Robin

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Reynolds

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tommy

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  19. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

  20. 5 out of 5

    Donna

  21. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jacqui Lincoln

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael Romero

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

  25. 4 out of 5

    Hunter Tolbert

  26. 4 out of 5

    Camila

  27. 5 out of 5

    City Lights Booksellers & Publishers

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kate Sallwasser Cordell

  29. 5 out of 5

    Karen O'Halloran

  30. 5 out of 5

    Susan Stemont

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