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UHV American Book Review: Author no stranger to honest, important writing

By BY A.J. ORTEGA
April 22, 2014 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated April 21, 2014 at 11:22 p.m.

UHV faculty member AJ Ortega

Thursday's speaker in the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series is author Domingo Martinez. His writing is certain to capture your interest.

I like hearing where people come from. "What's your story?" often comes out of my mouth. We have a past rich with our own personal history, our own little stories. And similarly, I'll talk your ear off about my childhood if you let me.

Many of us have the same impulse. This is exactly why Martinez is rocketing into literary stardom with his first book, a memoir titled "The Boy Kings of Texas," which describes the ups and downs of the author's life growing up in Brownsville.

While this is his debut book, he is no stranger to honest, important nonfiction writing. His writing has been featured in Epiphany, The New Republic, NPR's "This American Life" and "All Things Considered" and Saveur Magazine. In addition to this impressive list is his inclusion in Huizache, a magazine of Latino literature that lives here as part of CentroVictoria, UHV's center for Mexican-American literature and culture. My colleagues and I are proud to have an author as impressive as Martinez in our publication.

On top of the publishing credits he's earned, Martinez was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award in nonfiction and the 2013 Pushcart Prize and was a Gold Medal Winner for the Independent Publisher Book Awards. To be the only National Book Award finalist who was nominated for his first book is a testament to his writing prowess.

Though Martinez now lives in Seattle, the book is tremendously Texas, as the title implies. The book will resonate with readers who know Brownsville. It also will ring genuine for those of us familiar with the Texas/Mexico border. As an El Pasoan, I immediately felt at home in the opening pages. The people and language are familiar, real.

Not only is the book true in the depiction of border life, but we also have the luxury of getting into the author's head. It isn't a travelogue about the border, Brownsville or living in Texas with some crazy family members. Nope. It is about the unique experience through the lens of Martinez's childhood but with the mind of a sharp, witty, intelligent adult.

Perhaps the most interesting and most telling aspect of the book is the observation of his sisters, "the Mimis." The sisters have hilarious back-and-forth, punchy dialogue that reveals the truth about assimilation in the U.S. The girls aspire not just to be American, as almost all immigrants do, but specifically, upper-class white girls. They alter their dress, language and demeanor.

The serious topic of assimilation is subverted with humor, and it works because of the gritty, visceral and honest passages about drug use and physical abuse. Just as you need bad times to help you appreciate the good times in life, readers should appreciate the honesty - however painful - in order to admire the beauty in the book.

Writers have an obligation to teach us something. Often, that has only a little to do with the content of the book and more to do with our own personal reflections on what we have read. What does it mean that I laughed out loud during "the Mimis" passages? What does it mean that I had a lump in my throat while I read of a young Martinez being physically abused by his father? Well, that is for me and just me. But I implore you to experience the spectrum of emotions within "The Boy Kings of Texas" for yourself.

ABR is pleased to welcome Domingo Martinez to Victoria and to the UHV/ABR Reading Series at noon Thursday in UHV's University West Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.

A.J. Ortega is assistant editor of Huizache and teaches English at UHV.

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