The Farthest Home Is in an Empire of Fire: A Tejano Elegy

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Overview

"Wonderful...a book that connects us to the global story of ourselves." -Sandra Cisneros

In this beautifully written, highly original work, John Phillip Santos- the author of Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation-creates a virtuosic meditation on ancestry and origins. Weaving together a poetic mix of family remembrance, personal odyssey, conquest history, and magical realism, Santos recounts his quest to find the missing chronicle of his mother's family, who arrived in ...

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The Farthest Home Is in an Empire of Fire: A Tejano Elegy

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Overview

"Wonderful...a book that connects us to the global story of ourselves." -Sandra Cisneros

In this beautifully written, highly original work, John Phillip Santos- the author of Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation-creates a virtuosic meditation on ancestry and origins. Weaving together a poetic mix of family remembrance, personal odyssey, conquest history, and magical realism, Santos recounts his quest to find the missing chronicle of his mother's family, who arrived in southern Texas in the 1620s. As Santos traces their roots to northern Spain, he re-imagines the way we think about identity. The result is a uniquely engaging adventure in the frontier between self and family, past and present, at a time when breakthroughs in genetics are changing our window on history.

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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: 9780143118732
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/29/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (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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Table of Contents

Map of Nuevo Santander, 1756 iv

Uncle Lico's Vela Genealogy Disk xiii

Lopez Genealogy Disk iv

The Lopez-Vela Family, 1947 xvii

Lopez-Vela Family Tree xix

I Las Entradas 1

II A Book of Swoons 26

III Immaterial Ancestors 55

IV El Canto de Cenote Siete 91

V En Tierras Bárbaras 109

VI El Canto de Cenote Siete 136

VII El Real Archivo de Indias 148

VIII El Canto de Cenote Siete 165

IX Old Mexican City Twilight 176

X El Canto de Cenote Siete 203

XI Churrigueresco Helix 211

XII Zonas Santas 235

Epilogue: Imperio de Fuego 265

Acknowledgments 277

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Customer Reviews

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