Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border
Recommended by the New York Times and NBC News, and called one of the Best Books of the Year by Buzzfeed!
The New York Times directs readers to Retablos if you want to know what's life really like on the Mexican border. Solis grew up just a mile from the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas, and he tells stories about his childhood and coming of age, including his parents migration to the United States from Mexico, his first encounter with racism and finding a Mexican migrant girl hiding in the cotton fields.--Concepción de León, New York Times
Seminal moments, rites of passage, crystalline vignettes--a memoir about growing up brown at the U.S./Mexico border.
More praise for Octavio Solis's Retablos:
This is American and Mexican literature a stone's throw from the always hustling El Paso border.--Gary Soto, author of The Elements of San Joaquin
We inhabit a border world rich in characters, lush with details, playful and poignant, a border that refutes the stereotypes and divisions smaller minds create. Solis reminds us that sometimes the most profound truths are best told with crafted fictions--and he is a master at it.--Julia Alvarez, author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents
... it's hard not to consider the border itself as a representation of a 'terrible rift, ' a split between homes, communities, identities, generations. While reading this generous and eye-opening account, it's easy to see how, for the country at large, the rift has only deepened."--Arianna Rebolini, Buzzfeed Best Books of Fall 2018
Landing somewhere between Neil Gaiman and Juan Rulfo, Solis secularizes the mythological by turning men and women into saintly figures--like their criada [maid], Consuelo, and a white priest who shows his family empathy--and monsters: border agents who take his friends away and school bullies.--Michael Adam Carroll, The Millions
There has never been a border book like Retablos, a collection of smoldering epiphanies suffering the baptizing waters of recall. . . .--Roberto Ontiveros, San Antonio Current
The book is rendered in tight, stand-alone recollections rich with poetry and honesty. . . . If retablos are offerings, then Solis' book is a gift of memory, not always pleasant, but always true.--Beatriz Terrazas, Dallas Morning News
The experience of reading his tightly contained memories in succession is a bit like drawing old coins up from a wishing well. Filtered through veils of distance and time, these scenes and reflections are wonderful and weird flashes of childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in the life of this particular Mexican American boy.-- Sophie Haigney, San Francisco Chronicle
Octavio Solis' Retablos recounts a 'beautiful, messy' youth on the border. Though its title evokes Mexican folk art, Retablos is closer in effect to that of French pointillism. Its small dabs of vivid color produce a brilliant cumulative effect.--Steven G. Kellman, The Texas Observer
In this debut memoir, playwright Solis delivers top-notch vignettes of his youth with riveting imagery and empathy, recounting--and embellishing, he says--memories of growing up brown in El Paso, Tex. . . . These brilliantly told stories of missteps and redemption are a treat.--Publishers Weekly
. . .what struck me most about each chapter was Solis's ability to plant a specific image in your mind. With every retablo, you can see in ferocious detail exactly what the author wants you to see, like a special kind of telepathy. I found myself wanting to paint them.--Caitlyn Reynolds, The Los Angeles Review of Books
In all, a beautiful, evocative, and timely expression of border culture for every collection.--Sara Martinez, Booklist
In this coming-of-age memoir, a playwright illuminates the culture of the El Paso border as he perceived it when he was young. . . . An intriguing work that transcends category, drawing from facts but reading like fiction.--Kirkus Reviews
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About the Author
Author of more than twenty plays, Octavio Solis is considered one of the most prominent Latino playwrights in America. His works have been produced in theatres across the country, including the Center Group Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, South Coast Repertory, the Magic Theatre and the California Shakespeare Theatre in the San Francisco Bay Area, Yale Repertory Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Dallas Theater Center, and other venues nationwide. Among his many awards and grants, Solis has received an NEA Playwriting Fellowship, the Kennedy Center's Roger L. Stevens award, the TCG/NEA Theatre Artists in Residence Grant, the National Latino Playwriting Award, the PEN Center USA Award for Drama, and the William Inge Center for the Arts 2019 Distinguished Achievement in the American Theater Award.
His fiction and short plays have appeared in the Louisville Review, Zyzzyva, Eleven Eleven, Catamaran, Chicago Quarterly Review, Arroyo Literary Review and Huizache. This is his first book.
He is based near Ashland, Oregon.
For more information: www.octaviosolis.net
"In Octavio Solis' carefully crafted Retablos, an expansive new vision of a troubled America."--Barbara Lloyd McMichael, The Seattle Times
"Octavio Solis isn't a painter, but he ought to be. He's not a poet, but he could be. His isn't fiction or memoir but, like dreams, might be either. His vision of El Paso and the border is as though through an undulating haze of desert heat."--Dagoberto Gilb, author of Before the End, After the Beginning: Stories
"A retablo is a devotional painting, playwright Octavio Solis tells us. In this poignantly written, heart-warming coming-of-age memoir, Solis pays tribute to those cornerstone moments in his life, negotiating borders at once personal and cultural, with such color that the reader is left spellbound. Astonishing, what more can I say?"--Greg Sarris, author of How a Mountain was Made: Stories
"These stories soar and shimmer with poetry and a playwright's gift for dramatic compression, comedy and pathos running through them arm in arm. Retablos is deeply moving, and a joy."--Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen: A Novel
"To enter into this book is like walking into a shrine, walls lined with beautiful paintings, each one colorful and visceral, depicting memories, life on the border, death and sadness and joy. This is one of the most memorable books written about the borderlands in years"--Daniel Chacón, author of Hotel Juárez: Stories, Rooms and Loops
"Small but mighty, these stories will stay with you long after the moment has passed."--Frances Lefkowitz, author of To Have Not: A Memoir
"The introduction alone is worth the price of admission. Solis reflects on the foundation of the work ('true stories... filled with lies') and how memories evolve over time--creating life fables that elaborate on experiences, like 'lace trimming on a tablecloth.' Each piece recounts a specific memory, wholly satisfying even in its brevity. . . . Taken as a whole, Retablos becomes a glorious mosaic, as if one has stepped back from a single piece of strikingly painted tin and watched a larger masterpiece emerge."--Lauren O'Brien, Shelf Awareness
"A memoir about growing up a mile from the Rio Grande, told in vignettes, or retablos, showing the small and large moments that take place along the U.S. border. Julia Alvarez says of the book, 'Unpretentiously and with an unerring accuracy of tone and rhythm, Solis slowly builds what amounts to a storybook cathedral. We inhabit a border world rich in characters, lush with details, playful and poignant, a border that refutes the stereotypes and divisions smaller minds create. Solis reminds us that sometimes the most profound truths are best told with crafted fictions--and he is a master at it.'"--Lydia Kiesling, The Millions
"The stories that make up Octavio Solis's Retablos are as taut, riveting, and immersive as the sunrise in a red rock desert. Be forewarned--they're addictive. . . . Writing is original and laser-sharp, alive with adjectives that start and images that linger. Encountering a river-soaked girl who's just crossed the border the narrator notes the 'fugitive dullness' of her face, and the 'animal lurch' of her body as she turns to flee from him."--Foreword Magazine, Starred Review
"Here are 15 works of nonfiction from around the world coming out in the second half of 2018 that we can't wait to read. What it's about: In Mexican folk art, a retablo is a devotional painting featuring images painted on repurposed metal and typically laden with Catholic iconography. In Retablos, American playwright and director Octavio Solis examines his Mexican heritage, personal traumas and rites of passage and what it truly means to grow up brown living at the U.S./Mexico border."--CBC Books
"Set in the gritty border town of El Paso, where Solis spent his youth during the 1960s and '70s, the stories of Retablos are as harsh and dry as the sunbaked land along the Rio Grande that he so vividly evokes. . . . Like the images he emulates, Solis' stories transcend the limits of borders and time. "--Deborah Mason, BookPage
"A retablo is a devotional painting, often laid on tin and depicting, as Solis describes in his introduction, 'some terrible rift in a person's life that they survive thanks to the intercession of the Divine.' This memoir-in-vignettes from the celebrated playwright and poet Solis is a series of treasures: absorbing, vivid, sensitive, and sorrowful. Solis, who grew up in El Paso, deftly and humbly depicts individual formative moments (an encounter with a young border-crosser in a field near his home, excruciating first loves, a venture south of the border). The Divine in these retablos is not always visible, but the retablos themselves are full of grace."--Chorel Centers, Events Manager, Bookshop Santa Cruz, CA
"I have read Retablos and it is very powerful, very moving, puro corazón. Thank you for this testimonio to our cultura, familias, la frontera, the world. It couldn't be more timely at this time of sequestation of our families and the sadness of it all. And yes, the empowerment and tide-turning of justice that is awakening, alive and moving!"--Denise Chavez, Owner, Casa Camino Real Bookstore, Las Cruces, NM
"In Oregon playwright Octavio Solis' debut memoir, he presents compelling vignettes from his childhood and early adulthood along the El Paso, Texas-Juarez, Mexico border in the spirit of retablo paintings, which tell the story of a dramatic event and its repercussions. Racism, illegal border crossings, budding sexuality, a fraught sibling relationship, Herb Alpert's music, Solis' discovery of the power of theater and more all get a turn in the spotlight."--The Oregonian
"Building on the events of his life, underscoring their 'miraculous' nature, Octavio Solis has honored, through words, those memories which we hold sacred--and I can see why. As an English professor, my first impression of the book is that its epiphanic moments reminds me of Joyce's The Dubliners. Also, resemblances could be drawn to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. . . . I very much appreciated this highly personal, lyrically written Retablos."--Eileen Herrmann, The Eugene O'Neill Foundation
"Playwright Octavio Solis lays out his memoir in retablos, folk paintings made on repurposed metal in gratitude for the divine resolution of life's crises. Each of the retablos present a vignette from his life growing up in the border town of El Paso, Texas, as an 'anchor baby' in the 60s and 70s. The taut, charm-filled stories depict episodes such as encountering a young immigrant while playing hide-and-seek in a cotton field, a tow truck tug-of-war over an abandoned marijuana-packed Jeep stuck in the middle of the Rio Grande, and a young Solis practicing his English pronunciation by reciting names off globe and adorably mispronouncing the Pacific 'Ohkeean' to his class."--JR Ramakrishnan, Electric Literature