América del Norte

Nicolás Medina Mora

Book - 2024

"Sebastián lived a childhood of privilege in Mexico City. Now in his twenties, he has a degree from Yale, an American girlfriend, and a slot in the University of Iowa's MFA program. But Sebastián's life is shaken by the Trump administration's restrictions on immigrants, his mother's terminal cancer, the cracks in his relationship with his American girlfriend, and his father's forced resignation at the hands of Mexico's new president. As he struggles through the Trump and López Obrador years, Sebastián must confront his father's role in the Mexican drug war and his whiteness in Mexican contexts even as he is often perceived as a person of color in the US. As he does so, the novel moves through cent...uries of Mexican literary history, from the 17th century letters of a peevishly polymathic Spanish colonizer to the contemporary packaging of Mexican writers for a US audience. Split between the US and Mexico, this stunning debut explores whiteness, power, immigration, and the history of Mexican literature, to wrestle with the contradictory relationship between two countries bound by geography and torn apart by politics"--

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FICTION/Mora Nicolas
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1st Floor New Shelf FICTION/Mora Nicolas (NEW SHELF) Due Jun 20, 2024
Political fiction
New York, NY: Soho 2024.
Main Author
Nicolás Medina Mora (author)
Physical Description
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

The breezy, buoyant debut by Mexican journalist Medina Mora weaves together hundreds of years of Mexican history and culture with the frequently satiric story of young writer and narrator Sebastian Arteaga y Salazar (who shares some similarities with the author). In 2017, Sebastian is attempting to continue his ten-year stay in the U.S. despite the current president's attacks on immigration. He also struggles to write a book, deals with his clueless undergraduate students at an Iowa university, copes with an on-and-off romance with an American woman (who has had a a series of lovers from Latin America), and visits his friends and cancer-stricken mother in Mexico City. The heir of a powerful family of Austro-Hungarian immigrants to Mexico, Sebastian intersperses his story with a dizzying series of vignettes about figures from and periods of Mexican history, presumably taken from the many versions of the book he's been trying for years to complete. Readers willing to go along for a kaleidoscopic and occasionally overwhelming journey will get to know Sebastian's Mexico and unique point of view.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In Mora's incisive and witty debut, a Mexican writer reckons with his cultural identity in the wake of Trump's draconian immigration policies. In fall 2016, Sebastián Arteaga y Salazar, a 20-something Yale grad, returns to the U.S. from his home in Mexico City to enroll in the University of Iowa's MFA program for nonfiction. There, classmates are ignorant of his criollo heritage and dismiss his interest in Western philosophy ("All this theory and history and stuff--why don't you give us a character we can identify with.... Tell us about Mexico"). The next semester, Sebastian hires a lawyer to help him secure a "specialized-alien" visa, but even with his accomplishments, the application is denied. Meanwhile, he's started dating fellow Yalie Lee, who visits Iowa to evaluate the musicology graduate program and shares with him an interest in literature. As their relationship intensifies, the couple sees only one way forward--a marriage that neither is ready for. The author casts a wry look at the absurdities of American writing programs and of Trump's immigration policies, but what makes this special are his insights on the inner drive of aspiring artists and thinkers. It's an arresting novel of ideas. Agent: Elias Altman, Massie & McQuilkin Literary. (May)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A piercing critique of the shallowness of academia and the soufflélike weightlessness of American culture. As romans à clef go, this doesn't get much more clef-y. A young Mexican journalist (like Medina Mora), Sebastián Arteaga y Salazar, gets a scholarship to Iowa (like Medina Mora), and, on graduating, spurns residence in the U.S. to return to Mexico City (like Medina Mora). On that scaffolding the author builds a steely-eyed but not unsympathetic portrait of the people he meets. "In Mexico, not even the oligarchs are happy," notes Sebas, as his American friends dub him. He comes from a well-to-do household, its head a Supreme Court judge, in a country so riven by inequality that he's moved to ask his police bodyguard, "Why haven't the poor killed the rich already?" He arrives in the promised land of El Norte brilliantly well versed in literature, philosophy, history, art, to find most of his would-be compatriots profoundly ignorant. The Swiftian cast of characters includes the "Austro-Hungarians" of Sebastián's privileged class and family and, in Iowa, writer wannabes dubbed "the Decanonizer," "the Pseudo-Anthropologist," and "the Delightful Kid from Michigan." What he learns from those north-of-the-liners, including a girlfriend who's a groupie of all things Latine, is that, as Habsburgian as he might be, he's still just another brown person to them. More, after years in the U.S., "I loved America more than myself, but America didn't love me back," which causes him to head home, now disabused. Among many highlights: a splendid evisceration of "a Proud Boy-in-training" writing student and a superb closing paragraph that quietly evokes The Great Gatsby while being utterly original. A debut from an author to keep on your radar, assured, darkly funny, and impeccably written. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Entre las naciones como entre los amantes Like the Spaniards before them, the Americans landed in Veracruz and marched west, away from the malarial fevers of the Tierra Caliente and up the jagged slopes of the Sierra Madre, past taciturn agaves and stern oyameles and the blinding snowcaps of half-asleep volcanoes, until they reached the high valley where the air was thin and clear and the white light of the autumn sun fell vertical and merciless on the ill-defended capital, casting angular shadows on the barricades where the remnants of an army of barefoot conscripts whiled away their final moments, dulling terror with liquor and gambling, gathering stones to throw when their obsolete muskets ran out of ammunition, not so much resolved as resigned to die in a futile stand against an enemy destined to rule the continent. The truth, however, is that none of it was fated. At the start of the nineteenth century, conflict between Mexico and America was likely but not inevitable. The war that transformed the United States from an uneasy federation of small Atlantic republics into a global empire was but one of infinite possible outcomes: trusting coexistence grounded on commerce, friendship born from shared commitments to self-determination, even a gradual blurring of the lines that in due time could have brought about the death of two nation-states founded on genocide and slavery--and given birth to a North American Commune. But history is the transmutation of contingency into necessity, and what need not happen did. In the cool hours before dawn on September 12, 1847, the artillerymen of the United States Army trained their howitzers on the last significant fortification between them and Mexico City: Chapultepec Castle, a stone complex atop a steep hill, built as a manor, that now housed a military academy. Sixteen-inch rounds began falling on walls adorned with ornate masonry but offering scant cover. The thousand men of the garrison--among them cadets as young as thirteen--had no choice but to stand under fire for twelve hours, watching shrapnel tear and shred their friends. The following day, hundreds of US marines charged up the hill, taking cover behind venerable cypresses decorated with long hanging moss, dear alike to Cortés and Moctezuma. When they reached the parapet, they leaned siege ladders against the walls and began to climb in a swarm. At first the marines died in scores, their bodies tumbling on their brothers and dragging them to their deaths. But they were many and their adversaries were few. By midmorning the defenders had been overrun. In the years after the battle-dust settled, the Mexican republic would try to make sense of the humiliation it had suffered. The future had looked so promising just decades earlier, when New Spain broke free from its hemophiliac metropole to become one of the largest countries in the world: a vast realm, rich in silver and in people, that stretched from the forests of Oregon to the jungles of Darién. Now, however, Mexico City had been conquered a second time. How to look in the mirror? What to tell the young? The factual record offered no answers. And so the nation's patriotic scribes reached for myth, or rather for epic: a form where the beauty of heroism is enough to redeem defeat. The scribblers set out to find Hectors for their North American Troy--and found them in the cadets of Chapultepec. Over the course of countless retellings, the memory of the child-soldiers underwent a process not unlike the one Freud describes in The Interpretation of Dreams. Truths too painful to contemplate became half-truths, which in turn became wish-fulfilling fantasies, which were then passed off as truths. The logic of literature replaced that of history. Nonfiction became fiction. Soon the central story Mexicans told about the war was the tale of a handful of boys who'd fought to the end, long after all hope was lost, retreating to the highest tower rather than surrendering with their older comrades. When the Marines reached the platform, the last surviving cadet tore the Mexican flag from its pole, wrapped it around his adolescent body, and leaped off the cliff. The dreamwork allowed Mexicans to convince themselves that the Americans had defeated them not because they were worthier but merely because they were stronger. But to believe one's fantasies is the definition of madness. And so perhaps it would behoove us to counter the epic of the Heroic Children with another tale--one taken from history rather than from dreams. A few weeks before the cadets of Chapultepec committed ritual suicide, a very different young Mexican arrived in Washington for a secret audience with the secretary of state, James Buchanan, who would later become president. His mission was simple if not easy: negotiate an informal agreement that would protect the interests of the Mexican aristocracy. The secret agent, don Luciano Fernando Arteaga y Salazar, was the scion of an old family from Durango, a horse-breeding clan whose founder had received his hacienda in recognition of his services to Cortés. He'd been sent to England at a young age to receive a proper education, then travelled the continent armed with letters of recommendation that introduced him to the best minds of the age. By the time he returned to Mexico, he'd become something rarer and more dangerous than a cosmopolite: a translator. When it became obvious that the war was lost, the notables of Mexico City summoned Arteaga y Salazar to a private meeting at the country estate of the archbishop's illegitimate son. They explained that, while patriotic honor demanded that they continue to publicly support the war effort, their responsibility as unacknowledged stewards of the nation compelled them to look at things unsentimentally. The countless revolutions and counterrevolutions that had kept the country on fire ever since independence suggested that the people of Mexico were simply incapable of pursuing their own best interests. Reunion with Spain was not only impossible but also undesirable--the notables remembered the condescension with which their peninsular cousins had treated them. But the American invasion, perfidious as it was, offered an unexpected opportunity. And so Arteaga y Salazar assumed a false name and sailed from Campeche to Philadelphia, where he made contact with American agents. On that day in September, however, almost nobody in Mexico City knew of the young translator and his secret mission. After the fall of Chapultepec, the surviving Mexican forces fought on throughout the day, putting up fierce resistance near San Cosme. But then, at nightfall, the Americans fired artillery shells on the crowded city center. The Mexican commander-in-chief, don Antonio López de Santa Anna, that one-legged Simón Bolívar impersonator, gathered the dregs of his army and quietly abandoned the capital, declaring that he hoped to spare its inhabitants a week of house-to-house butchery followed by nights of looting and rape. It was only much later that the people of Mexico learned that Santa Anna's retreat had nothing to do with protecting the innocent--and everything to do with the agreement Arteaga y Salazar had brokered in Washington. At dawn on September 14, the Americans marched into Mexico City. Terrified of ambushes, they advanced in perfect silence, surprised to encounter no resistance. As rumors spread, crowds gathered on rooftops to watch the ghostly procession of the conquerors. Once his troops had secured the central plaza, the Zócalo, General Winfield Scott, known to favor fuss and feathers, dressed in parade uniform and mounted a handsome white horse, hoping to cut a fine stamp on his entrada. He rode onto the square, where he supervised the raising of the Stars and Stripes and reviewed his triumphant ranks as they broke into a spontaneous rendition of "Yankee Doodle." The corpulent general took possession of the National Palace and climbed to the balcony to address his troops and the people they'd conquered. He'd just begun a pompous speech when a group of women who'd gathered in the plaza interrupted him with heckles: "¡Cállate, puerco!" Then a shot went off from some high window, wounding a US officer in the leg. The Americans turned their cannon on the crowd and opened fire with grapeshot munitions. When news of the victory reached Washington, the American republic debated just how much land to annex. Some rallied behind the cry of ALL OF MEXICO, arguing with the governor of Virginia that SLAVERY SHOULD POUR ITSELF ABROAD WITHOUT RESTRAINT AND FIND NO LIMIT BUT THE SOUTHERN OCEAN. But in the end the rulers of the newborn empire decided to keep only the northern half of the country they'd defeated. The reasons, in the words of one Senator Calhoun, Democrat of South Carolina, were straightforward: To incorporate Mexico would be the very first instance of the kind of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians . . . I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race. The great misfortunes of Spanish America are to be traced to the fatal error of placing these colored races on an equality with the white race. The dream of a united North America was forever lost. The two nations were never joined, neither in marriage nor by conquest, and instead remained divided by a line--so thin as to be invisible, so stark as to be impassable--that cut not just across the land, but also through the heart. It should come as no surprise that love between their children became impossible. Excerpted from América Del Norte by Nicolás Medina Mora All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.