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Where Angels Glide at Dawn: New Stories from Latin America.

The ten short stories in this collection, which are compiled for young readers, are new much like the "new songs" of Latin America, celebrating the age-old traditions and cultures of the region, uncovering untold history and interpreting the reality of today. Translated from the Spanish, the stories provide a taste of contemporary Latin American literature that can both instruct and delight a broad audience regardless of its familiarity with the region.

An introduction by Isabel Allende presents the perspective on the continent's history from the time of the conquest and the sense of social purpose that underlies the creations of the storytellers. The authors themselves, all renowned and accomplished writers, need no introduction. Allende powerfully sets the stage for young readers to explore the wonder and diversity in every corner of the Americas, "... those magical Latin American lands, characterized by their wild geography, violent history, beautiful myths, legends, and people moved by their great passions."

One of the most imaginative stories begins the collection. "The Bear's Speech" by Julio Cortazar is a two-page discourse by a bear who inhabits the pipes of an apartment building and observes the tenants. The bear's behavior accounts for everything normally associated with a dilapidated infrastructure, from the erratic water pressure to the noise one hears in the pipes at night. Learning about the bear, anyone annoyed by the plumbing in an old building will laugh knowing the mischievous but caring bear is making his rounds cleaning the pipes with his fur.

"The Rebellion of the Magical Rabbits" by Ariel Dorfman brings to a child's dimension the ultimately futile attempts of dictators to control the thoughts of people using the metaphore of wolves who banish rabbits to extinction. Happily, in the end, "the world was full of rabbits."

The next story by Puerto Rican Alfredo Villanueva-Collado is reminiscent of the ludicrous and hilarious scene in the film "Bye-bye Brazil" where a snow-making machine is brought to the Amazon by a traveling burlesque show to "civilize" the South. "The Day We Went to See Snow" recounts the travails of one family who drive to the capital to touch imported snow. By the time they arrive, the snow is a muddy brown slush. "With My Eyes Closed" by Reinaldo Arenas is a touching story of a child who does not like what he encounters on his way to school--beggars and bullies, a cat killed by a car. He so believes in the power of his mind to make things right that he closes his eyes and "sees" a happier version of events on his way home from school. No matter what happens to him, he refuses to see things other than the way they were when his eyes were closed.

A nightmare than lingers in waking hours is the subject of "The Cave" by Enrique Jaramillo Levi. Everyone has their own haunting story like this one which leaves one with a sneaky suspicion long into adulthood that it wasn't just a dream.

The elephant who is a concert pianist in "Paleton and the Musical Elephant" by Jorge Ibarguengoitia is both the obsession and the downfall of a rich man and his gangsters. Having robbed the public of enjoying the talented elephant and his piano-playing spectacle, the rich man and his cronies pay for their greed and their crime.

"A Clown's Story" by Mario Bencastro is perhaps the most poignant story of the collection. In El Salvador, besieged by civil war and the attendant economic misfortune, the clown can fine no one to come to the circus. He roams the street in happyface costume never losing hope that he will encounter someone willing to smile back. It is a clown's search for the innocence lost in the devastation of war.

The first story presented by a female author, Maria Rosa Fort, is about Martina who travels from her city by the ocean to a village high up in the Andean mountains during Holy Week. Martina's description of the place and the ceremonies vividly captures the mystical aura that seems to permeate the practice of ancient rituals.

Despite its title, "Fairy Tale" by Barbara Mujica, a North American, is no fairy tale. Like the preceding, this story is about a young girl who travels and discovers a new place and way of life. However, in this case, Monica, raised in New York, is exploring her own roots, the place where her grandmother's stories and legends unfold. During her visit with relatives, Monica encounters a figure famous throughout the region's folklore, and familiar from her grandmother's tales. Or was it just a tale? An enchanting recollection about a childhood nanny and the magical powers such personalities always seem to have closes the anthology. "A Huge Black Umbrella" by Marjorie Agosin is a loving tribute to that first adult friend whose departure often marks the end of childhood and whose influence often holds sway over a lifetime.

Where Angels Glide At Dawn is magical and real, like the black and white woodcuts that illustrate the anthology. The editors have thoughtfully provided endnotes and glossaries for those unfamiliar with Spanish and the cultural, geographical, and historical make-up of the countries represented in the book. Recommended reading for grades 5 and up, the stories can also be read by grown-ups who seek solace and humor in reflections on historical happenings or the foibles of everyday life.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Organization of American States
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Terrell, Nena
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Words:893
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