La Maravilla


"Buckeye Road wasn't much of a town, just a place where a pocked and pitted road met an invisible street....It was less that unincorporated, it was unknown..."

Yet it is here in the desert outside the Phoenix city limits that Alfredo Vea, Jr., finds a world of marvels spilling out of the adobe homes, tar-paper shacks, rusted Cadillacs, and battered trailers that are otherwise known as "Buckeye." Three thousand years of history and the myths of many cultures, as well as the fates of a dozen unforgettable ...

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"Buckeye Road wasn't much of a town, just a place where a pocked and pitted road met an invisible street....It was less that unincorporated, it was unknown..."

Yet it is here in the desert outside the Phoenix city limits that Alfredo Vea, Jr., finds a world of marvels spilling out of the adobe homes, tar-paper shacks, rusted Cadillacs, and battered trailers that are otherwise known as "Buckeye." Three thousand years of history and the myths of many cultures, as well as the fates of a dozen unforgettable characters, will all collide one hot summer in 1958; and the events played out on Buckeye Road will amount to nothing less than a new and life-affirming vision of the American Southwest...and of America itself.

The vivid symbol of Buckeye Road is La Maravilla—the blanket of marigolds laid upon graves in Mexican cemeteries, and the mythical dog, sacred to the Aztecs, who returns from the under-world to lead his master to Mictlan, the land of the dead. La Maravilla is the embodiment of belonging to two worlds, and of being torn between the love and fear of both. It is the condition and mystery borne by all who inhabit this American outback—whether they are Blacks, Chicanos, Asians, Native Americans, Mexicans, European immigrants, or Anglo misfits. For Beto, the young boy at the center of this magnificent story, it is the dilemma that he must somehow resolve and emerge from whole. For Beto has no parents to guide him—his mother has fled the "old ways" of her Mexican family for a bright new American life beyond the desert sunset in California, where "Indians are history and Sunday is for football, not church!" But in her place, and more than filling it, is Beto's aristocratic Spanish grandmother, a Catholic curandera with a passion for the music of Duke Ellington. He also has his grandfather, a Yaqui Indian whose spirit soars above a desert without frontiers. With this extraordinary first novel, Alfredo Vea, Jr., takes his place in the first rank of America

"A forceful vision of the vibrant, symbiotic co-existence of colliding cultures" (San Francisco Chronicle), this much-praised literary debut by Mexican-American author Vea spins a lyrical and largely autobiographical tale of life in a squatter's community outside Phoenix in the 1950s.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Evoking the magical realism of Latin American literature, this unconventional but compelling first novel centers on a young Mexican-American boy and his grandparents, an Indian whose spirit soars outside his body and a Catholic witch doctor who keeps a jar of mystical oils next to her silver crucifix. The poor Arizona desert town that Beto and his abuelitos call home during the late 1950s is a multicultural Arcadia. Here black, white, Native American, Mexican and Chinese families--not to mention transvestites, prostitutes and a madwoman who recites the poetry of Andrew Marvell to her dogs--live in perfect harmony and mutual respect. Only a murder of passion and the reappearance of a long-lost dog named Apache mar this desert idyll. According to Beto's visionary grandmother, Josephina, whose gift for magic loosely stitches this scattered tale together, the dog is a maravilla , a creature who escorts the spirits from the land of the living to the underworld. Apache's return presages a death that spurs Beto toward maturity, as he learns reverence for his Native American forebears. Though the narrative line is tenuous and sometimes abruptly disjointed, Vea's shimmering prose, colorful characters and vivid imagery are as impressive as Josephina's dreams. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Marigolds, the flowers of the goddesses, and an old dog, the herald of completion, give the Spanish title to this first novel of magic, deep love, and grinding poverty in a neglected edge of Phoenix. At its center is Beto, a fatherless, prematurely wise boy, and his abuelitos ``grandparents'', Spanish Catholic Josephina and Yaqui Manuel. They live on Buckeye Road, a place of peculiar racial harmony born of solidarity in poverty. Their neighbors in this Cadillac graveyard and tarpaper community include young Boydeen, living scarred under a porch and speechlessly writing down all she hears; and mournful prostitute Vernetta, whose abundant flesh diminishes with her lost son's return. Many fascinating characters with singular, sometimes fantastic stories both enliven and crowd this sorrowful, entertaining, erratic novel. A good choice for adventurous readers.-- Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., Ohio
Kirkus Reviews
From attorney and onetime migrant farmworker V‚a, a bewitching debut based on childhood memories of a squatters' settlement outside 1950's Phoenix. Most multicultural stories pale next to nine-year-old Beto's boyhood in the desert with his Spanish-born grandmother—who struggles to reconcile her curing powers with Catholicism—and his pagan Yaqui grandfather—who can leave his body and fly. Okies, Arkies, African-Americans, Indians who sing Irish railroad songs, transvestites, prostitutes, the Chinese grocer and cook regard each other with suspicious curiosity. Even the Fuller Brush man here is an outsider: a mutilated concentration-camp survivor. All fling about racial stereotypes but can never get away from shared food and music, mutual respect, love. (The Mighty Clouds of Joy Church allows even sinners to tap into its electrical service; the whole community is connected by extension cords.) People live in cardboard houses and junked cars, but much of the novel is very funny; and when people do suffer, it's not from their material poverty: White Vernetta became a prostitute out of sorrow following the lynching-murder of her black/Filipino boyfriend; jealousy leads to crimes of passion; people struggle with remorse for failings toward God and man. Meanwhile, V‚a's cross-cultural translations weave enchantment as Beto's grandparents initiate him into values meant to sustain him in materialistic, nontribal mainstream USA. V‚a's uneasy mix of magic realism, essay, tragedy, broad comedy, and didactic speech never quite blends, but each element—like the different races thrown together in the desert—forms an integral part of this astonishing fictionalizedtribute.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452271609
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/28/1994
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,265,437
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Alfredo Vea was born in Arizona and worked as a migrant farm worker as a child and a young man. He served in Vietnam and after his discharge worked a series of jobs, ranging from truck driver to carnival mechanic, as he put himself through law school. Now a practicing criminal defense attorney, Vea is also the author of two previous novels, La Maravilla and The Silver Cloud Cafe. He lives in San Francisco, California.

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