For his latest recommendations, Books & Books owner Mitch Kaplan has selected two divergent, yet equally relevant immigrant stories, a memoir from the local gridiron, and a work of classic literature with a science-fiction spin. As always, we recommend supporting South Florida’s independent books chain by purchasing your copies at the links below.
For most of Americans, unless we live on the southern border, immigration is largely a political wedge issue, and an abstract one at that—a debate topic that arrives at us through bloodless statistics and ideological filters. Javier Zamora’s Solito puts a compassionate and relatable human face on the subject: his own. Born in El Salvador in 1990, the 9-year-old Zamora began what he expected would be a two-week migration, via coyote, through Guatemala, Mexico and the Sonoran Desert to reunite with his parents, who had fled the Salvadoran Civil War to the United States years earlier. Solito chronicles how two weeks became two harrowing months, involving dangerous water transports, brutal desert journeys, arrests and weapons pointed at him. But the core of Zamora’s account may not be the dramas and the traumas he endured but the love and support he received from his fellow-migrants, who treated this pre-adolescent stranger like a member of their own family.
To paraphrase Bogey, “we’ll always have 1972.” No matter how mediocre the Miami Dolphins’ season, the team’s undefeated 1972 year can never be taken away from them. On the contrary, its stature continues to grow; as recently as 2019, in honor of its 100th anniversary, the NFL named that Miami squad the greatest in NFL history. Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl champion fullback Larry Csonka played a pivotal role in the Dolphins’ success, though as he shares in this lively memoir, football was just one facet of a fascinating life. Head On includes stories about Csonka’s hell-raising childhood on an Ohio dirt farm, his run-ins with law enforcement, his heat-packing confrontation with thieves, and his escape from sniper fire while entertaining troops on a USO Tour of Vietnam. The book also describes his hobnobbing with celebrities as sundry as Burt Reynolds, Lee Majors and Elvis Presley. Sounds like the perfect stocking stuffer for the Fins fan on your list.
Already a multi-award winning author, Jonathan Escoffery has received even more hosannas for this debut collection of loosely related stories—including being long-listed for the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction. Praised for its loosely connected, novelistic storytelling, the tales in If I Survive You revolve around an extended Jamaican-born family that immigrated to Miami in the 1970s to escape political violence and pursue the American Dream. They face external challenges, from Hurricane Andrew to the Great Recession, though the family’s cursed luck extends to personal domains as well. The book’s linked stories center on Trelawny, the youngest and perhaps most lucid member of his clan, but all the characters are richly drawn by an author who understands what it means to live between cultures, where residual racism is an everyday affront. For all of the seriousness of its themes, If I Survive You has also been praised for its humor, because if we can’t laugh at life’s pileups of absurdities, where will we be?
A CLASSIC WORTH REVISITING
Best recognized as a science fiction author, Octavia Butler both satisfied and transcended the hallmarks of the genre with her 1979 masterpiece Kindred. In it, her protagonist, a young Black woman in 1970s Los Angeles, finds herself an inexplicable time traveler to a period less hospitable for people of her skin color: the antebellum south. It’s here that she must contend with what we might call the great-grandmother paradox: protecting a young white slaveholder, despite the atrocities in which he participates on his plantation, because he will eventually father her ancestors. Dense with ideas and thriving on the intersections of race, gender and power, but accessible to readers of all ages, Kindred has become a boundary-breaking landmark that is still discussed today. In fact, a miniseries based on the book will premiere in December on Hulu, with the creators of “Watchmen” and “The Americans” behind it, so there’s no better time to explore the source material.