“One reads From This Wicked patch of Dust and can only pause for a moment to say, ‘Yes.’ Sergio Troncoso writes with inevitable grace and mounting power. Family, in all its baffling wonder, comes alive on these pages.”Luis Urrea, author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter
"From This Wicked Patch of Dust, Sergio Troncoso’s new novel, is the story of the Martinez family; the parents who leave their home in Mexico in search of a new, better life across the border; their childrenthree boys and a girlwho grow up between cultures, who struggle to find, understand and ultimately claim their own place in this world. The novel’s structure is elegant and seemingly simplechapters arranged chronologically, snippets of life, at times fully dramatized in vivid scenes, at others condensed in efficient summary. The pages turn, the children grow up, their parents grow old. The bordertown changes. What is it to be American, Mexican, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim? What is it to strugglefor sustenance, for the freedom to choose who you want to be? Effortlessly, with elegance of style, Troncoso weaves a tapestry of lives, of human beings who by the end of the book feel not just real, not just intimately close, but undeniable, inescapable, a part of ourselves."Judges' Comments, PEN Texas Award for Fiction
Troncoso tells the story of a Mexican-American family as they come to terms with their cultural heritage over a span of 40 years. The new novel from Troncoso (Crossing Borders, 2011, etc.) follows Cuauhtémoc and Pilar Martinez and their four children in the border town of Ysleta, Texas. As the children grow up, they feel the pull of their parents' love for Mexico and the opposing force of their own identities in America. Cuauhtémoc is able to retire early from working as a draftsman and travels with his wife, living off the income from the apartments owned by the family. Pilar, a Catholic mother who is stern but instills strong values in her children, is a hardworking housewife who sold Avon to help with the bills. However, she worries that she hasn't done enough to fill her children with her beliefs: "Pilar was overcome with incredible sadness. Why had her children abandoned the church? Why had they become like grains of sand scattered throughout the desert?" The oldest, Julia, becomes Aliyah, converting to Islam and moving to Tehran with her husband and three children. Francisco is overweight and attending community college, but works tirelessly at the apartments, playing the role of the good son. Marcos becomes a teacher and a member of the Army Reserve, marrying a white woman and living near his family in Ysleta. Ismael, the youngest, goes to Harvard and marries a Jewish woman, escaping the confines of his home in Texas only to meet with the labors of life as a man torn between his duties as a husband and his aspirations as a writer. Troncoso seamlessly intertwines the struggles the grown children face with their parents' desire to help them become independent and proud Mexican-Americans. The prose is powerful in an unassuming way, making for a captivating read. The author carefully paces the book, with each chapter plotting an era in the family's lives, ultimately joining the family's collective narrative of religion and family obligation with the current events of the time. Troncoso is clearly adept at his craft, telling a story filled with rich language and the realities of family life closing with a son reassuring his mother, and literature reassuring them both. With its skillful pairing of conflict over religious and familial obligations with the backdrop of a Mexican-American family's love for one another, Troncoso's novel is an engaging literary achievement.