20 de septiembre de 2009

IN THE NAME OF THE SON by Mario G. Huacuja


In the Name of the Son is the most recent novel by Mexican author Mario G. Huacuja.
About the Book
Through its examination of the relationship between a single immigrant mother and her son, In the Name of the Son offers a perspective on the lives of Hispanic American migrants, as well as the social, political and economic upheavals that marked the U.S. and Mexico at the beginning of the 21st Century.
Julieta Sanchez lives with her son in Manhattan’s upper west side. As her son grows up, he naturally becomes curious about his origins, and about the father he never knew. His quest to discover his true identity will take him to Mexico City and to Paris, back to New York, and finally to the tropical rainforests of southeastern Mexico.
The story narrates the internal conflict of a young man trying to ascertain the identity of his father, who will ultimately uncover the unexpectedly violent and disturbing truth of his origins. His search leads him into a labyrinth full of mirrors, where he finds his own reflection changing at every step.
Mario Huacuja delivers a fast-paced novel with a cinematic flavor, offering unexpected twists in every scene. It is perhaps no accident that one of the characters turns out to be the silver screen legend himself, Robert De Niro.
About the Author
Mario Guillermo Huacuja was born in Mexico City. He has worked as a journalist, a professor at Mexico´s National University, a TV scriptwriter, a radio commentator, social communications director for the Mexican Ministry of the Environment, a novelist and a sailor. He sailed from Acapulco to Japan in an ancient carabela, a replica of Christopher Columbus's Santa Maria. His novel In the Name of the Son, about a Mexican immigrant growing up in New York City, is his first novel translated into English. His most recent novel, “Coyoacán, Hora Cero”, revolves around the Aztec prophecy of the Apocalypse, and is set in Coyoacán, one of Mexico City's most popular colonial neighborhoods.


One of the most striking memories of my early childhood is that of my encounter with the Statue of Liberty. I would have been four or five years old, and the sight of it filled me with awe; I had never seen a woman so big. Everything about her was larger than life. Her green copper color, the strength of her arm reaching into the sky, the elegance of her tunic, the golden flame of her torch and her vacant expression marked me forever.


First, a few plants would appear, sprouting up from the quagmire of trash and growing with amazing speed, turning into the robust trees of Park Avenue as I passed them; then the elms of Central Park would appear, and around the heaps of scrap metal and squashed cardboard boxes would appear the outlines of the buildings that surround the park like sentinels: the Dakota, with its symmetrical windows and ochre colors; the Hotel Plaza, with its renaissance façade; the Twin Towers of the thirties, with that grace granted only by the passage of time. I would regard this fantastic metamorphosis with a joy that knew no bounds; I would look to my mother in the distance and run towards her embrace with renewed resolve, while the city grew up all around me as if by magic. It was an extraordinary sensation; I felt as if wings sprouted from my shoulder blades, and I began to fl y unhindered through the avenues and alleyways. Then the widest path in the junkyard turned into Broadway, the shattered windscreens were transformed into brilliant neon signs dancing with light, the skeleton of a dilapidated truck expanded suddenly to take on the dimensions of Radio City, the puddles of putrid water crystallized into the skating rink of the Rockefeller Center, and all at once the city rose up with its colossal buildings and filled up with its inhabitants from every corner of the world.


Samantha looked at me with an expression of perplexity and rapture, as if I had just synthesized in a sentence the full depth of the painting. Then she took me by the arm, leaned her head against my shoulder, and led me to the winding ramp that identified the profile of the museum and defined its architecture. We walked out onto the balcony, where from on high we watched the people leaving the museum before closing time, and in that moment she took my face in her hand as if it were an apple and forced her tongue into my mouth vehemently, searching for something inside me that would give her the key to my sensitivity or astuteness. This sudden attack robbed me of my self-control, rendering me completely stunned, although I admit that not even in the most alert state would I have imagined that it was the preamble to what happened next.


Marijuana, on the other hand, was common currency. It could be obtained on any street corner in the neighborhood, and it had become as popular as tobacco. My friends smoked it to relax, and as a result I always saw them in a state of peace that resembled beatitude.
I remember clearly the first day that I slipped into that illicit world. It was dawn, and Samantha and I had left an apartment in the Village where there had been much talk of painting and the constant drone of Charlie Parker’s sax as if it were a mantra. I had been as bored there as an animal in captivity. Shortly before saying goodbye, one of Samantha’s friends offered us a satchel of pot as if it were the most appropriate baggage for the return journey.
And in fact it was, because before boarding the subway on the way home, a small sampling of that spiritual herb was enough to inspire us to contemplate the daybreak on one of the historic
benches in Washington Square, and we sat looking in wonder at the colors that streaked the sky. Wow, I had never before seen such beauty; the clouds were impregnated with a Mexican rose pink that looked like a fire in the distance, and the white marble arch was illuminated as if it were the threshold to an imaginary kingdom.


And then, in the blink of an eye, I saw him. He was one man among the millions of ordinary pedestrians swarming about the residential districts of southern Manhattan, but he had that proverbial magnetism that radiated from his unmistakable figure on the silver screen. RobertDe Niro, talking on a street corner. I was stupefied. It was him, the loony taxi driver who accumulated a diabolical arsenal to protect a teenage prostitute and to challenge the world with his ballistic strategies; the young and dashing godfather Vito Corleone, who took advantage of the fleeting opportunity offered by a parade in lower Manhattan to shoot at point-blank range at one of the self-proclaimed kings of the neighborhood and then went home with a shiny apple for his son; De Niro, the overweight boxer who gained God knows how many pounds to play the part of heavy weight champion Jack LaMotta; De Niro, the noble missionary who defended the Brazilian natives against their own government’s unjust war of extermination. De Niro, the hero with charismain spades; the villain of unbridled cruelty; the leading man who takes away the breath of every woman in the world; the idealist Mafioso, the simple martyr. Robert De Niro, the figure at the top of the very short list of men I admire in this life.


Then I decided to follow her, and I went forward to the edge of the rink to rent some skates. It wasn’t so full, and although I was an inexpert skater I stepped onto the rink spurred on by the novelty of having an encounter with her on ice. I hesitated for sometime at first on the edge of that great frozen rectangle, holding firmly onto the wooden barrier as I tentatively tested my abilities on the skates. Then I ventured out a few steps, with enough impetus to slide furtively as I pushed myself forward with my feetpointed diagonally, digging the blades into the ice with increasing self-assurance, until I got to the curve and tried to cross the rightfoot over the left to make the turn, but with such poor coordination that the back of my right blade got jammed into the front of the left, and I lost my precarious balance and dove head first at the feet of the statue of Prometheus while the other skaters dodged about me and eyed me with either commiseration or mockery.

13 de septiembre de 2009


Isabelle, my roommate, was a beautiful woman from Marseilles with large green eyes and an elegant figure, who had grown up and developed intellectually during the long years of the Mitterrand government. I had met her by chance at one of the summer concerts organized on the grounds of the Pompidou Center, and had been seduced by her easy laughter, her childlike enthusiasm, her relentless curiosity and… her singular interest in all things foreign. In a Paris swamped with Arab immigrants and ultra-conservative xenophobes, it was hard for a foreigner to find acceptance among the locals. You could familiarize yourself with all the main streets of Paris, speak French without an accent, identify every dish of French cuisine, but… only French citizenship could give you style, class and grace. For the French, heritage defined the status of the individual. Paris, that axis of the fusion of many cultures, in reality professed an implicit rejection of the barbarians from the world outside. Isabelle’s openness to me was therefore an oasis.


The whole of Paris can be found in the Café de Flore. Few places have a history as far-reaching or as weighty, as at its tables have sat writers, philosophers, journalists, painters, actors, movie directors, politicians and tourists of every kind. It had enjoyed more than a century of life, from la Belle Epoque up to those controversial years of European unification. I was not a very regular customer (the dishes were out of my price range) but the waitress who served me coffee or wine at the corner table from where the whole premises could be observed always recognized me when I came in. She was a generally good-humored lady advanced in years, one of those typically conventional French women who are part of the furniture in certain upper-class Parisian establishments.


In the township of Tenosique, the sultriest corner of the sultry state of Tabasco, the mosquitoes are brutal. They stalk their prey during the cruelest hours of a summer’s day, and when night falls, they charge in murderous swarms, ravaging the skin and filling the heart with the desire to leave and never return. They are the hardest test for the city folk who travel to Tabasco to bask in Nature’s glories. Those who pass the mosquito test can go deeper into the fertile plain of the Usumacinta River, cross its vigorous flow and rush off in search of Mayan treasures.


Finally, after more than a year of searching for him, I was face to face with him. He was an old campesino, a farmer with a forehead furrowed with lines, a drooping moustache peppered with grey, unusually bushy eyebrows, an aquiline nose with a scar thatran from the septum to the left nostril, a firm jaw, and those deep eyes typical of people whose lives are tied to crops and to the land, to the sun and to the rain. He had on his head one of those felt sombreros that country folk only ever take off in bed or in church, and a pair of sandals so worn out that they looked like they had crossed every cornfield in southeast Mexico.


I watched the crowd distractedly for a while until just below, at the arrivals and departures information booth, an almost imperceptible movement caught my eye and made me forget my inner turmoil for a moment. In the queue waiting to be attended was as lightly rotund, elderly black man in a very loose-fitting raincoat…and behind him, almost stuck to him, was a short, pale-faced teenage girl who was jerking from side to side as if she wanted to jump the queue and reach the counter first to find out what she needed to know. As they were surrounded by a crowd of people, nobody realized when she slowly slipped her hand into the pocket of the raincoat of the man in front of her and stealthily withdrew a wallet… and then, without anyone noticing, she slipped out of the queue at once and began walking towards 42nd Street with the wallet in her pocket… and then it happened... something inside me, a reaction or a chemical impulse, a sudden glimmer, an irrepressible desire to act, to do something in response to the adversity and injustice in the world… I don’t know exactly what it was that moved me to do it, but instinctively I headed for the stairsand went down to the main concourse, intercepting the girl before she made it out to the street…

S - 11

Horrified, I spun my body around and tried to flee towards Greenwich Street, when a collective howl stopped me and mademe turn my eyes back to the sky; then I saw clearly, as if in slowmotion,a second plane fly directly into the other tower withdiabolical marksmanship, cutting the air with an apocalyptic explosion,and hurling out a ball of flame in the impact. It was pan-demonium. What followed was an unceasing nightmare in whichpain, desperation, fear, agony and death all joined forces. As indreams, I lost all sense of space and time. The street began to fillwith burned and bloody bodies while people fell from the sky;people who had hurled themselves from the building to avoiddying in the flames. You only needed to look up to see bodiesleaping into nothingness and crashing inert onto the roofs of theneighboring buildings, or onto the asphalt that singed from thecloseness of the fire. It was a spectacle of Dantesque and at thesame time heroic proportions, because there were also firefighters, police officers and ordinary citizens who were rushing to theaid of the wounded, and struggling with all their might to save thelives of anyone they could. Many tore off their clothing to offer abandage to one of the injured. This exemplary response kept mefrom joining the stampede of those who fled. In the chaos I found a school full of children, where women were crowding aroundtrying to get their sons and daughters out, and without thinking I pushed my way in to help with the evacuation of the smallest.They were children of three, four, five years of age, who came out crying in anguish and panic, and I carried them through thesmoke and out to the street and passed them to any person who offered a hand. In their desperation, many mothers were squashing the little kids in the way, while others fell victim to attacks of hysteria or fainting…I don’t know how much time I spent in the inferno.