Sirena by E. G. Lopez
(iUniverse / 0-595-48605-3 / 978-0-595-48605-2 / February 2008 / 278 pages / $17.95)
Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM
This is an initially lyrical but at the same time, strangely disjointed book, tracing the fortunes of a Hispanic family in New Mexico and Colorado. It opens with a retelling of an eerie legend, about a haunted spring in the Moncayo, the wild mountain highlands between Soria and Zaragoza - the Rocky Mountains of old Spain. It continues as a rambling generational saga of the Valdez family, beginning in the early 19th century, when the state called New Mexico was truly a distant province of Spain and later Mexico itself. The experiences of the various generations throughout the 19th century and into the 20th are limed in spare but telling details; the lives, labor and loves of those men and women. Their devotion to their land and their families, the uneasy relations with the Anglo element, and the alien culture that eventually swamps ‘la Gente’ is told with authority and sensitivity; these people were the ancestors of the author. He knows them well, but the distance from them enforces economy in telling their stories.
The narrative begins to fray when it comes to his own generation; Sirena becomes discursive, talky, and overly analytical. Still interesting for its insights into the experience of Hispanic-Americans, especially for the author’s proposition that the 20th century draft offered an escape to young Hispanic males, an escape from limited options, dead-end jobs, and at worst - petty crime. But Sirena unravels completely in the final chapter, with a lurch into apocalyptic political forecasting; a vision of a nightmare America, where - under the guise of dealing with illegal immigration - all Hispanics, no matter of what status, income or profession - are rounded up or arrested, and sent to Nazi-style labor camps, overseen apparently by employees of that modern bug-bear, Blackwater. The story concludes with an improbable fantasy of a Sobibor-like prisoner revolt in one of these labor camps The author contemplates this grotesque situation happening seamlessly, without protest or resistance and with the complete agreement of the rest of the United States, which has the effect of rather ruining an otherwise sympathetic and interesting family saga.
Editor's Note: E. G. Lopez is the father of Kermit Lopez, author of Cibolero.
See Also: Celia's BNN Review