Professor Oscar Casares Publishes "Amigoland"
Fri, August 7, 2009
In a small town on the Mexican border live two brothers, Don Fidencio and Don Celestino. Stubborn and independent, they now must face the facts: they are old, and they have let a family argument stand between them for too long. Don Celestino's good-natured housekeeper encourages him to make amends—while he still can. They secretly liberate Don Fidencio from his nursing home and travel into Mexico to solve the mystery at the heart of their dispute: the family legend of their grandfather's kidnapping. As the unlikely trio travels, the brothers learn it's never too late for a new beginning.
"This exceptional first novel from Casares chronicles a Mexican-American road trip. In a Texas border town, two estranged brothers live mere miles apart. Don Fidencio, in his 90s, is the quintessential cantankerous old man. His grumbling provides comic relief from the pain he experiences at Amigoland, the nursing home in which his daughter and son-in-law (“The Son of a Bitch”) placed him and from which he is continually plotting his escape. Fidencio’s younger brother, Don Celestino, fills his empty retirement with a love affair with Socorro, a woman more than 30 years his junior. When the brothers reunite, Fidencio commands his younger sibling to take him on a road trip to the family’s old estate in Mexico. In an attempt to get closer to Celestino and reunite his broken family, Socorro convinces him to fulfill his brother’s wish. She comes along too, and the motley crew sets off across the border. Casares has a talent for dialogue. The characters are neither good nor bad, but refreshingly real, and sudden shifts in perspective allow readers to empathize with each one. His portrait of the endearing, complicated love between Celestino andSocorro offers a welcome and uncommon exploration of passion in old age. Simultaneously, pitch-perfect prose charts the brothers’ evolving, improving relationship. Casares allows his characters to embrace what they can become without forcing them to lose who they are. The book grapples with what it means to live on the border. Language, folklore and food all reinforce the paradox that the dividing line between Mexico and America is both real and fluid. In a dusty brown town, the journey of these three ordinary people provides a splash of color and spirit. Knowing, touching and true." -Kirkus Reviews
"Casares expands the clean, tender prose of his debut collection, Brownsville, into a winning novel. In an American town just north of the Mexican border, the estranged Rosales brothers are equally ambivalent and inwardly volatile. Don Fidencio is snappish, sickly and endearing: he refuses to admit his own incontinence, smokes cigarettes against his nurses' wishes and identifies people, often cruelly, by their physical appearances (such as "The Gringo With The Ugly Finger"). Meanwhile, his widower brother, Celestino, a diabetic, feels "adrift toward the edge of a flat world." He's slowly drawn out, thanks to his Mexican cleaning woman, Socorro, who travels from "the other side" every day, wishing that the geographical and social borders between them could be "gently... swept aside." The mysterious reason for the brothers' estrangement forces the three characters to push back from one another outwardly while returning, internally, to their own weaknesses, and their distinct voices pick up the thread of narration so easily that, from even mundane details, it's plain to see how love, borders, death—and most of all, willful ignorance—are part of everyday reawakenings. With Casares's blessing, you can laugh at them all." -Publisher's Weekly
"Oscar Casares' Amigoland, his first novel and a follow-up to his much-acclaimed book of short stories, Brownsville, is a liberating journey full of warmth and color. Don Fidencio and Don Celestino are senior-citizen brothers who live near each other but haven't spoken in years. Their falling-out has something to do with a haircut, or the fact that Celestino never quite believed Fidencio's account of a story their grandfather told him. At the prompting of his much younger new girlfriend, Socorro, Celestino attempts to reconnect with his aging brother. One fateful morning, Celestino and Socorro spring Fidencio from his nursing home. And bickering all the way, they journey through Mexico in search of their grandfather's childhood home (which may not actually exist the way it does in Fidencio's mind). By the last page, the trio just might find exactly what they need—but didn't know they were searching for. This dryly humorous yet big-hearted novel boasts three compelling and intricately drawn characters. Don Fidencio is imprisoned in a nursing home and growing bitter—and terrified—over the betrayals of his aging body, even as he holds on to his stubbornness and a still-flickering hope for resolution. Don Celestino shares his brother's stubborn pride and faces his own uncertain future with a quiet sobriety. The two are just alike enough to clash—and alike enough to slowly grow to understand each other. Meanwhile, Socorro, Celestino's cleaning-lady-turned lover, is a study in patience and wistfulness. Her name means "help," and help she will—help broker understanding between the two brothers, help Fidencio during their whirlwind of travel and in the end, one hopes, help herself finally get what she wants. In Casares' gifted hands, the brothers and Socorro completely come to life, while the group's impromptu trip to Mexico feels like a refreshing, rejuvenating trip for the reader as well as the characters. And the ending? Bittersweet, unexpected and undeniably precious. All told, Amigoland is full of new friends and makes for perfect summer reading." -Book Page
"...A lesser writer than Casares would have given in to the temptation to play such things for awkward laughs. Instead, Casares has crafted characters who are not powerless in the face of infirmity and thus cannot be reduced to caricature. While they may not always be sympathetic figures, you feel as if you understand them.
By telling Don Fidencio and Don Celestino's story in a straightforward manner and giving them a quest with which to reclaim their dignity, Casares has proven himself to be a writer with a big heart. This debut novel indicates he's also a writer with a big future." -Ed Nawotka, The Dallas Morning News
"DonFidencio Rosales once had so many mistresses, he could catalog them in a notebook. Now, age 91, he is in a nursing home, barely in control of his body and angry about it. He and his estranged younger brother Don Celstino haven't spoken in a decade, but a mutual horror of old age draws them back together, and their reunion helps to solve a long-debated family mustery.
While occasionally stilted dialogue slows the pace, Amigoland's poignant imagery and wisecracking leads make it hard to put down. Casares is at his best when describing the downfall of the fiercely independent Don Fidencio. "My time should have come years ago," he says. "Sometimes I think God forgot about me." Debatable, but readers will remember this well-drawn crank even after this witty, affecting novel's final page." -Beth Perry, People Weekly
"Border Tales: Oscar Casares inspired by family lore," by Steve Bennet, San Antonio Express-News [link]
"An author's unlikely inspiration: Oscar Casares uses his uncles tales as muse for Amigoland," by Maggie Galehouse, Houston Chronical [link]
"Grumpy old men and the troubles that trail them," by
"Notable new books," Atlanta Journal-Constitution [link]
"Arts & Entertainment, Datebook," Wall Street Journal [link]
More information on Oscar Casares and his work can be found at www.oscarcasares.com.