Ilan Stavans Looks at Jewish and Latino History and Culture in Two New Works
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Ilan Stavans, professor of Spanish at Amherst College and the editor of Hopscotch: A Cultural Review, has published The Essential Ilan Stavans ($18.95, 331 pp., Routledge, New York and London, 2000) and Latino USA: A Cartoon History ($19.95, 169 pp., Basic Books, New York, 2000).
The Essential Ilan Stavans collects Stavans’s essays and fictions on the writings and experiences of people on the borders of the dominant culture, looking at both Jewish and Hispanic themes. Stavans’s essays range from “The Latin Phallus,” a look at homosexuality in Latin culture, to “Cartoon Freak,” an appreciation of the comic strip as art, to “The Jewish Self.” Mexican comedian Cantinflas shares the stage with Mexican revolutionary Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos. Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges are discussed here, among many other Latin writers, but so are Franz Kafka, Rigoberto Menchú, Walter Benjamin and Sholem Aleichem. Essays on Spanglish, kitsch and the Holocaust are among these pieces, first published in The Forward, Hopscotch, The Nation, Salmagundi, The Times Literary Supplement, Transition and many other books and periodicals.
In the first essay in this collection, “Life in the Hyphen,” Stavans, a Mexican-American-Jewish-popular-academic, writes that Americans of Latin descent, “while racially diverse and historically heterogeneous, an ajiaco (Cuban stew) made of diverse ingredients, by chance or destiny have all been summed up in the same grocery store called America. America, where exile becomes home, where memory is reshaped.”
The shape of memory is also the theme of Latino USA: A Cartoon History, written by Stavans and profusely illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz, in which Stavans “sought to combine the solemnity of serious literature and history with the inherently theatrical and humorous nature of comics,” as he writes in the essay “Cartoon Freak,” which introduces the book.
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