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Took a bit of getting into as there are different stories that eventually all tie in together . It is a quick insight into how the Mexican people were treated in LA, many if whom lived there before the Mexican /American war.
This book is a waste of good paper. It is overrated, the characters are flat, it tries to be edgy but it comes across as forced, the writing style reeks of the MFA writers workshop. The writer seems to wrap up each chapter with a calamity; his characters get deported, commit suicide, are murdered, become homeless ad nauseum...and because the characters are poorly developed, you really don't care, so it is all an exercise in tedious banality. As a Mexican-American, this writer seems like he is trying to hard to sound "Chicano", it is like he is posing or something. Put it this way, if "Brando Skyhorse" turned out to be a pseudonym for a middle aged white lady from Peoria, I won't be surprised.
Echo Park, the Los Angeles neighborhood down the hill from Chavez Ravine, is the setting for Brando Skyhorse's interconnected story collection, The Madonnas of Echo Park. (I think Brando Skyhorse may be one of the coolest names I've ever heard for an author.)
The characters in Skyhorse's stories are Mexican-Americans of varying ages who are trying to fit in with or rebel against their culture and their neighborhood. Many of the characters are the types of people we pass by every day--cleaning women, bus drivers, day laborers, ex-convicts and teenagers--but Skyhorse brings each to life by wrapping us up in their stories. There's Felicia, who finds herself cleaning house for a family more damaged than she bargained for; Angie, who is reminiscing about her life-changing, fractious relationship with her teenage best friend; Efren, a bus driver who has always prided himself on his staunch devotion to rules and regulations, until one night; Hector, a migrant worker who is forced into covering up a murder; and many others.
Some of the stories in this collection truly moved me, some intrigued me and all but one compelled me to keep reading. Skyhorse created some complicated, multi-layered characters; even when they fall closer to stereotypes, I still found myself invested in what was happening to them. I never felt as if the way he connected the stories was too forced; at times, when I recognized the connections I was even a bit surprised (and even awed, once or twice). I look forward to seeing what comes next in his career, and I definitely recommend this book if you enjoy short stories.
Picked up this book after it won the PEN/Hemingway Award, since I've liked other P/H award winners in the past, and I was not disappointed. Skyhorse is a lush, unapologetically humanistic writer, and the book reads like a cross between a love song to and a eulogy for a community knotted together by love, tragedy, struggle, racism, class conflict, dreams, and circumstance.
MADONNAS OF ECHO PARK is rather OLIVE KITTERIDGE meets UNACCUSTOMED EARTH in its attention to interconnected lives and a specific immigrant/American community. I've realized how much I like the new genre emerging in books like MADONNAS OF ECHO PARK, OLIVE KITTERIDGE, and LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN--novels that grow out of (thoroughly) linked independent characters, whose lives coalesce and create a miniature world in which the setting and local culture is almost a character itself. It allows all the rich possibilities of world-building a novel does, but more freedom and natural possibility for the plot. Like I felt with those other books, one story in MADONNAS OF ECHO PARK resonated with me especially, because of my personal experiences. I look forward to recommending the book to others and seeing which particular story resonates for them.
I wish I had created a map of characters when I started this book. There are many characters and I assume they are all somehow connected and I probably missed the point of the story because I didn’t always remember the connections. Sometimes when a character was mentioned again later in the book I didn’t remember who they were or what their connection was to the current character/other characters. So, I suggest if you’re just starting, create some kind of map to depict characters’ parents, kids, lovers, friends... and maybe a blip about them so when you meet them again you won’t experience what I had.
I loved this book! It's been a delight to read it. Not only did it caught me from the very begining, it also moved me in so many ways all along its pages. I loved the way all the characters' lives were interwoven and the overall rythm of the book. The characters are so rich and well constructed that it's a pleasure to peep into their lives. Most of them even have a great sense of humor. I cryed and laughed with their stories. I also got dissapointed, mad and frustrated. I even felt nostalgic.
This book is about family, about home. It's also about identity and life in a wonderful neighborhood in L.A. Fiction aside, I know the place was dangerous and full of gangs back then, but how the neighborhood comes alive with all these people's lives, tirals and tribulations is just heart touching, simply beautiful. Almost everybody wanted out, but their roots were so deep in the land that they couldn't manage to leave entirely. Everyone came coming back. And of course, the neighborhood itself has its own story to tell. And it's deffintely worth "listening" to it.
We read this book for our college English/Reading class and, overall, we give the book 4 stars. First of all, we found the topics to be very relatable for us here in the Bay Area, especially the topics of gentrification and immigration. The book was told through several different characters’ points of view, which increased our interest as readers. This approach to writing emphasized the point that everyone has different perspectives, even those from the same racial group. As Millennials, we enjoyed learning from the 90’s pop culture references and comparing them to today’s times. Two pieces of advice for future readers: as you read, look closely for connections between the characters in the different chapters and check out the discussions questions at the end of the book.
Our critiques were that there were a few too many characters to keep up with in the book. The last chapter didn’t recap the entire story, which would have been helpful, and the last chapter lacked character development.
SPOILER ALERT: We learned that the Author’s Note was not true (!), which made us think of the author as dishonest. It left us with a bad feeling about the author. At the end of the book, we were hoping for a reconnection to the apology to Aurora from the Author’s Note, but that, unfortunately, didn’t happen.
Beautiful lyrical passages that made me stop and re-read to appreciate (again) the use of language. Mr. Skyhorse's word work is skilled but unpretentious. I can think of a dozen contemporary comparisons, but truthfully he has done something so unique I believe that no comparison would be fair or accurate. (Perhaps the closest and fairest would be the superlative "Olive Kittridge".) Regarding the charges from other reviewers that the book is "inauthentic" I have to respectfully disagree. In my opinion, TMoEP is gritty and unforgiving in its observations, yet tender and respectful of a history that has largely gone without fictional documentation. Bravo to the author. By the time he gets his AARP card this young man will be the U.S. poet laureate. You heard it here first.
Brando Skyhorse shows us in "The Madonnas of Echo Park" that he has what an exemplary author needs: the ability to create voice. In each chapter, we have a new narrator. Yet the shifts are not jarring, for the characters have emerged through actions in previous episodes, and I recognized each of them as they told their part of the story.
Skyhorse leads us through the neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, remarking on the changes from times prior to the building of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine to the present-day gentrification and "quaint" expensive shops.
The people of the neighborhood, the women, the workers, the bus drivers (he's too much), everybody has a say. We get the flavor of the cooking, the laughter of the families, and the clash of the generations. From the "what can you do" attitude of the old timers to the brash teen girls to the swank college grads, the narrative looks at life in the barrio with love and familiarity.
Skyhorse brings in events known to the LA populace, the Night Stalker killings, the mayors' remarks, the impossible traffic. Yet his scenes are distinctively accentuated with the Hispanic words and phrases as well as the continuing saga of the Esperanza family. There are gangbangers, there are cleaning ladies, there are UCLA grads and restaurant workers. People stand on corners edging one another out for jobs. A baby is shot during an impromptu dance party.
This is life in the big city, but the big city becomes our world while we are moving through them with the commentary of a gifted guide.
"The Madonnas of Echo Park" is a most enjoyable read.
This book is all about identity. It relates the stories of several Mexican immigrants and its second generation as they try to live the American Dream around the Echo Park area in the city of Los Angeles. As with other ethnic groups within Los Angeles, they see themselves as Americans but also set apart from others by their Mexican background and culture. Holding on to their Mexican heritage, integration between ethnic groups is a slow and hesitant process that continues to be a struggle even for the second generation, often accompanied by feelings of a loss of identity and belonging.
Another recurring theme within this patchwork of stories is the lack of family cohesion. Children grow up without their fathers, often even unaware of who their father is. Mothers are forced to abandon children in an effort to escape the poverty trap. Instead of a family, the community takes on the role of parents, which explains in part the close knit structure of these communities. As prosperity also reaches these immigrants and the face of the neighbourhood changes, their communities change too, perhaps not into the American Dream as once hoped for, but into something that is American nonetheless.
While all this takes place in the background we meet an older Mexican going through the daily humiliation trying to find a day’s work waiting to be picked out in a carpark. We meet his wife and his daughter as they all drift apart and struggle with their own financial troubles and relationships. We meet their friends, their lives mingle and touch but never quite seem to overlap, just like a patchwork quilt. Their choices both exasperate and touch but always evolve around the area of Echo Park. It’s like the bigger the country, the less people will travel.
Each of these people get their own voice within the book. They tell their own story and we get different accounts of shared experiences. This is what gives the book its cohesion and warmth. Their voices ring true and they sketch a warm, vivid and sometimes ugly picture of what it is to live as an (il)legal Mexican in Los Angeles, both decades ago and in the present day. As with some sketches, it leaves vague edges and some of the characters blend together but what remains is a strong tale of people who try to find a balance between holding onto their heritage and finding their own place within the melting pot of American society.