"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."

Borges

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Importance of a Piece of Paper



I’ve long been a fan of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poems and when I found this little book sitting on a dusty shelf of a used bookstore in Hollywood, I grabbed it. I read it coming home on the train on the same day and finished it as soon as I got in the door, forgetting dinner, work or anything else I had to do that night. It’s that good.

The Importance of a Piece of Paper is a collection of short stories, each one a shining facet of this diamond of a book. In Matilda’s Garden, an old man struggles with day-to-day life as he mourns for his dead wife. The story is almost ethereal, a fairy tale of flowers and grief. It is also touching and uncannily real. I’ve seen this kind of grief before. We all have an abuelo, an abuelita, a tia or tio, a mom or a dad who has lost their life partner, their companero who has been with them for so man years that when they lose them, they are lost. This story captures all that grief, longing, memories and love. It’s beautiful and my favorite of the collection.

There are other stories as well, each one with it’s own message, feel and emotion. The Importance of a Piece of Paper, the title story tells of a brother who has sold his piece of inherited ranch land out from under his siblings. The story tells of the feelings of betrayal, rage, hurt and of the struggle of keep the land that has been in their family. Again, Santiago Baca touches his fingers to the pulse of who we are, how we think and feel. This story could be about any of us Mexicanos, we’ve all known something a little like this.

In Enemies, another of my favorites the story is about three prisoners of different races who have spent years in solitary confinement and hating each other. Suddenly, unexpectedly, they are released and are left with only their hatred of each other. The journey they make, both on their way home and within themselves is revealing and gives much room for thought.

Jimmy Santiago Baca’s masterful use of words in this lovely collection of stories and leaves the reader wanting more.

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