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The Farthest Home Is in an Empire of Fire

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Overview

A family's epic origins in the hinterlands of Mexico that became Texas-and earlier, in Iberia

In his acclaimed 1999 memoir Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation, John Phillip Santos told the story of one Mexican family- his father's-set within the larger story of Mexico itself. In this beautifully written new book, he tells of how another family-this time, his mother's-erased and forgot over time their ancient origins in Spain.

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Overview

A family's epic origins in the hinterlands of Mexico that became Texas-and earlier, in Iberia

In his acclaimed 1999 memoir Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation, John Phillip Santos told the story of one Mexican family- his father's-set within the larger story of Mexico itself. In this beautifully written new book, he tells of how another family-this time, his mother's-erased and forgot over time their ancient origins in Spain.

Every family has a forgotten tale of where it came from. Who is driven to tell it and why? Weaving together a highly original mix of autobiography, conquest history, elegy, travel, family remembrance, and time travelling narration, Santos offers an unforgettable testimony to this calling and describes a lifelong quest to find the missing chronicle of his mother's family, one that takes him to various locations in South Texas and Mexico, to New York City, to Spain, and ultimately to the Middle East. Blending genres brilliantly, Santos raises profound questions about whether we can ever find our true homeland and what we can learn from our treasured, shared cultural legacies.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Family history—and the lack thereof—sparks this vaporous meditation on time, memory, and Chicano heritage. Having traced his father's Mexican-Indian and mestizo roots in Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation, Santos here investigates the Lopez and Vela clans on his mother's side, descended from aristocratic Spanish immigrants who settled the Rio Grande territory in the 18th century. Unfortunately, the Lopez-Vela branches lack the thick culture of his father's side; they are more genteel and assimilated into Anglo society and have few recollections of a past, which the author must reconstruct at a distance. Santos delves into their genealogy, peruses Spanish imperial archives, has his DNA analyzed, and unearths evidence of ancestors from Spain and perhaps even the Holy Land. But with little grounding in lived experience, the story spins away into abstraction and fantasy. The author often lapses into a turgid mysticism—“As mind is to body, so time is to world”—and intersperses a science fiction narrative about a time traveler called Cenote Seven, who pontificates on everything from conquistador arrogance to planetary magnetic fields. Santos gives his forebears no flesh-and-blood presence; they seem like figments of an overactive imagination. Photos. (Apr. 5)
Kirkus Reviews
A fascinating though convoluted tale of identity by former CBS and PBS TV journalist Santos-the follow-up to Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation (1999). The author's kin, his mother's Lopez-Vela and father's Santos-Garcia families, "were among the founders of the Villas del Norte, the legendary towns created in the last conquistadorial campaign in Mexican history"-what would later become a 40-mile stretch from the frontier towns of Rio Grande City to Brownsville, Texas. Santos traced documents in Seville archives pertaining to the original expeditions of Colonel Jose de Escandon y Helgueva in the mid-1700s to the area of South Texas that the explorer christened Nuevo Santander, colonizing it with Iberian families and violently subduing the native Indians. The author also unearthed documentation of early land grants bestowed to original Vela relatives, which had only been hinted at by his Uncle Lico, the family's genealogical chronicler. Santos's work is an intensive reckoning of personal dimensions, as he wrestles with his family's mestizo identity in the New World, which was an outgrowth of longer, deeper migrations from ancient civilizations in the North African and Arabian Peninsulas, as he found out from DNA tests. These "palimpsests of worlds" reflect an enormous diversity of colors and ethnic makeup, ending up in "the cosmic mixing of races taking place in post-Conquest Mexico." As part of his intimate journey from Texas to Oxford to New York City and back to San Antonio, the author creates a kind of ghost, or future literary offspring, from the act of automatic writing, "Cenote Siete." C7 inhabits a distant land called "La Zona Perfecta," moving somewhere between "fleshand ether," and its hallucinatory chronicles of memory, offered in alternating chapters, act as a kind of muse to aid the author in navigating and understanding the fluidity between generations. A Tejano Hesiod grapples with ancestors known and invisible. Author events in Texas
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670021567
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/1/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

John Phillip Santos, born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, is the first Mexican American Rhodes Scholar whose awards include the Academy of American Poets' Prize at Notre Dame and the Oxford Prize for fiction. His articles on Latino culture have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and the San Antonio Express-News. Writer and producer of more than forty television documentaries for CBS-TV and PBS-TV, two of them Emmy nominees, he lives in New York City.

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