OF DREAMS & THORNS
by J.C. Salazar
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Salazar’s debut novel presents a Mexican-American family’s saga from the 1950s to the ’90s.
The story follows the members of the Ocañas clan from a rural farming village near Monterrey, Mexico, where patriarch Ramiro’s roots run deep, through moves to Chicago, Houston, andOrange Cove, California, as his children establish roots in the United States. The book opens with Ramiro’s arrival in the frigid Windy City in 1950, where he’s followed an acquaintance in the hope of getting factory work and providing for his family. He faces challenges as he learns the ways of a new country; he also ends up having an affair with his much older landlady, despite his professed devotion to his wife, Eliza, back in the village of Naranjales. Ramiro returns to Mexico after becoming financially stable, but after a family tragedy, he returns to the United States for good, bringing his wife and kids with him to settle in Houston. The children face their own challenges as they struggle to bridge the divide between the rural lives of their parents and the urban world they now call their own. Salazar does an excellent job of depicting Ramiro’s transitions, particularly during his time in Chicago as a young man; a scene of his first visit to a supermarket is particularly vivid. The book also effectively shows the commonalities and the subtle differences between Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. On the whole, the writing is strong, although Salazar’s tendency to provide a word-for-word translation of Spanish dialogue grows repetitive: “ ‘Compa, que gusto de verte. Ya me ansiaba oir esa risa contagiosa tuya,’ ‘So great to see you, buddy. I couldn’t wait to hear that infectious laugh of yours again.’ ”
An often richly drawn portrait of immigration, acculturation, and family loyalty.