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Paradise Lost or Gained? The Literature of Hispanic Exile.

In his epigraph to the Introduction of Paradise Lost or Gained?, Fernando Alegria describes the psychological evolution of the exile: "The first months of numbness, pain and depression passed. I realized that a new phase of exile was beginning, that from now on there would be other periods, all different, each with its own anxieties, all shattering and overwhelming, and that I would be changing too, passing from one crisis to the next until I reached the moment of truth, unique and definitive--the day on which I would either stop being an exile and return home, or unavoidably, with sadness and resignation, become an immigrant." The stories, poems and essays in this collection--some in English, some in Spanish--focus on different phases of this process. A few describe the intolerable circumstances in the native country that forced the writer to leave; others recreate the difficulties of adaptation; still others depict reencounters with the native culture in which exiles, now accustomed to new environments, suddenly realize that they have become foreigners in their own lands. Surprisingly, few of these pieces are nostalgic or angry. The best treats the dilemma of the exile with warmth and humor.

One of the funniest and most heart-rending stories in the collection is "Garage Sale People," by Juan Armando Epple, about a Chilean family living in Eugene, Oregon. Alienated and homesick, the family cultivates memories of the homeland, especially that of the loving grandmother who makes incomparable humitas and empanadas. The children cherish the hope that someday they will be able to bring Granny to Eugene to live with them, and the adults haven't the heart to tell them that she has been dead for years. One of the aspects of their new surroundings that fascinates the family members most is that very American phenomenon, the garage sale. Little by little the father, especially, is drawn into the consumer mentality that leads people to wander from sale to sale, acquiring merchandise they don't need. But when the children insist that it is time to bring Granny to Eugene from Chile and will no longer take no for an answer, the distraught father finds the solution--amazingly!--at a garage sale.

Guillermo A. Reyes, also a Chilean, captures the ironies of exile wonderfully in his hilarious story, "Patroklos," the tale of a homosexual theater director who runs a small playhouse in Los Angeles. Patroklos talks incessantly of returning home, but once he has his ticket in hand, he must come to terms with the fact that back in Santiago he will not be able to enjoy his new gay lifestyle as openly as in Hollywood. In Louis Marcus Rodriguez's "Tres dolores distintos y un solo amor no mas," an amusing but banal love story takes a chilling turn when the protagonist learns that his former sweetheart has been tortured and killed by military thugs during the Pinochet regime. "South," by Argentine writer A. Pablo Iannone, is a poignant exploration of the problems of communication between a Latin American man and his American girlfriend; while the man's chauvinistic stance is at first irritating, soon it becomes clear that his cliche-ridden insults are a mask for his deep sense of frustration and alienation.

The essays treat disparate topics, not all of which seem pertinent. Among the most interesting is Eliana S. Rivero's study of the evolution of Cuban-American writing from the nostalgic, distinctly expatriate vision of exiled Cubans who harbored dreams of returning to their island to the new, distinctly Cuban-American vision of an ethnic minority functioning within the larger framework of North American society. Flora Gonzalez Mandri's "El Retorno" is a predictable conglomeration of observations on the warmth and spirit of the Cuban people in spite of their tribulations, and on the ambivalence of her own position as an insider and outsider at the same time. Olivia M. Espin's "Roots Uprooted: Autobiographical Reflections on the Psychological Experience of Migration" is an attempt to convince the reader that her comments on her 1984 trip to Cuba is a full-fledged sociological study. While interesting, Donald L. Shaw's piece on the structure of Antonio Skarmeta's Sone que la nieve ardia seems rather out of place in this collection. For although Skarmeta is one of Chile's best-known expatriates, the article does not deal directly with exile.

Although one might quibble about a few of the selections, over all Fernando Alegria and Jorge Ruffinelli have done an excellent job of compiling material that increases our understanding of the trauma of exile. Through the intimate testimonies in Paradise Lost or Gained?, millions of exiles who have been uprooted from their native soil cease to be faceless statistics and become flesh and blood men and women whose stories move and enlighten us.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1993
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