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Rebel with a Cause
Amigoland is the debut novel of Oscar Casares. It opens with a-day-in-the-life of a recent arrival in a nursing home after suffering a minor heart attack. Ninety-one-year-old Fidencio Rosales, a retired mail carrier, wants to escape from the nursing home and live anywhere but there. But his daughter/guardian will not agree to take him home to live with her, nor will she let him live alone. The nursing home called Amigoland is replete with rules and regulations against which the protagonist is on the verge of rebelling. Set in contemporary Brownsville, Amigoland provides a powerful emotional experience for those not afraid of exploring the human mind and becoming aware of physical limitations. Written in the elegant prose of a true insider, we are in good hands with Mr. Casares, a native of Brownsville.
Not one to give up on his goal of freedom and independence, Fidencio makes a passionate appeal to his brother whom he is trying to convince to take him to live with him:
You can say that because you don't live here, because you have your own house, because you think you know how it is to live here, where you cannot walk two paces beyond the door without somebody coming to take you back inside by the arm. They tell you everything: how to walk, when to eat, when to watch television, what time to go to sleep, the days to take a shower, when to make cacas.
Fidencio may be a ninety-one-year-old surly man, but we can learn a thing or two from him, he knows how to stand up for his rights and dares to change his situation instead of just being passive and feeling sorry for himself. Fidencio is a man of action. His brother Celestino, a seventy-one-year-old retired barbershop owner, wants to mend the relationship with his brother before it is too late. Celestino also has a love interest in the novel, the beautiful Socorro, a middle-aged maid whom he meets a few months after he becomes a widower. They become lovers blurring the employer/employee relationship. Amigoland is also populated by a huge cast of supporting characters, sketched out authentically in telling detail by Mr. Casares's observant eye. Go ahead, read and see who you might recognize.
The brothers were estranged for about ten years before Socorro comes into the picture and makes an effort to reunite them. It is then that the sly Fidencio, our man of action, hatches his plan. He challenges Celestino and Socorro to go with him into the interior of Mexico on a quest in search of evidence of a family legend. Whether it's a tall tale or reality no one knows but Fidencio, the great orator makes another appeal to his brother and Socorro. Claiming that he had made a promise to their grandfather's request:
Tocayo, someday when you are older you should go back and see how things are now, what there is of my ranchito. Tell them I always wanted to go back.
Their grandfather, Papa Grande, passed down the story of his kidnapping, by natives, at the age of seven and brought over into Texas territory in 1850. Amigoland is a wonderful journey into past memories whether they occurred or not. It's the journey and the unification of the brothers that is important in Amigoland.
From his first short story collection, "Brownsville" (2003), Oscar Casares was critically acclaimed and heralded as a new literary voice in American Literature. Amigoland does not disappoint, Casares is able to take the reader deeper into a rich character study.
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Posted September 21, 2009
AN AFFECTING STORY, TOUCHING AND TRUE
While some have called this novel hilarious, it is not. It is better described as touching, wise, and absolutely wonderful. However, there are indeed comic moments to be found in this story of two brothers who have long been estranged. Ninety-one year-old Don Fidencio and his brother, Don Celestino, younger by two decades, are all that remain of eight brothers and four sisters.
When Fidencio thinks of his younger brother he realizes that they haven't spoken in years and wonders why. He doesn't even know whether or not Celestino is alive, thinking, "That the youngest was alive would make sense, he supposed, but what good reason could there be for the oldest to be alive and for the rest of his brothers and sisters to be gone?"
Don Fidencio is the reluctant resident of a Brownsville nursing home, Amigoland. Relegated there by his daughter, Amalia, and her husband known to us only as The Son Of A Bxxxx, Fidencio suffers from many of the indiginities visited upon the elderly - incontinence, insomnia, and forgetfulness. Wishing to have nothing to do with his fellow residents he has not bothered to remember their names - referring to the women as The Turtles and others by such sobriquets as The Gringo With The Ugly Finger or The One With The Worried Face. He's dosed with a variety of pills, and keeps his worldly possessions in four shoe boxes.
Don Celestino, on the other hand, is a retired barber, widowed, and engaged in a relationship with his housekeeper, Socorro, a widow in her forties who lives across the border in Matamoros. She's a kind woman who wants more than a weekly physical relationship with Celestino, she wants to know more about him. Upon learning that he has a brother she encourages Celestino to find him.
Once reunited the brothers disagree on much, primarily a story Fidencio claims to be true - that their grandfather, Papa Grande, witnessed the killing of his family and was kidnaped by Indians. In order to determine the truth this unlikely threesome sets off on a journey to Linares to find Papa Grande's 's home. El Rancho Capote.
Celestino considers the story a figment of Fidencio's wandering mind, and goes only at Socorro's behest. It's a 4-day trip during which each learns a great deal as does the reader. We're reminded of the importance of family, dignity, acceptance, love, and hope.
Casares is a magnificent writer with an eye for telling detail and an obvious respect for the characters he has created. We await more from him.
- Gail Cooke
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Posted July 21, 2010
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Posted May 23, 2011
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