Debut novel navigates immigration in post-2016 America
“I was born with flat feet and the habit of guessing,” says the narrator of Rodrigo Restrepo Montoya’s affecting debut novel, “The Holy Days of Gregorio Pasos” (Two Dollar Radio). As Gregorio convalesces from having some ribs busted in a soccer game, he looks back on a formative stretch of years of his life: his parents splitting up, his graduation from high school in Connecticut, living with his dying uncle Nico who takes him to Colombia, and his return to the States and his encounters and experiences there. There’s a warmth and solemnity to Gregorio’s voice, as he reflects on death and strain, and the almost inarticulable woe of being an immigrant in the States post-2016. Restrepo Montoya, with poignancy, precision, and subtle force, explores the choices that lead us to the places we end up, and what we carry with us in memory and in action. “I know where I am, but I don’t know where I’ve been. There’s something I’ve lost, but I don’t know what.” There’s love at the core of the book, for family, for teammates and pals, for partners. “There is only one kind of letter,” uncle Nico tells Gregorio. “A love letter. To write a real one, you have to be sorry.” Gregorio is observant, sensitive, funny, and a goalkeeper, too, guarded, guarding, keeping close and active watch.
Yetta Dine, poet Stanley Kunitz’s mother, at the center of a new biography
After the poet Stanley Kunitz died, his daughter Gretchen sifted through his papers and came across a handwritten memoir written by her grandmother, Yetta Dine, Stanley’s mother. She emigrated from Lithuania, taught herself English, worked as a seamstress, and suffered huge losses including the suicide of her husband. Years after Gretchen made this discovery, she shared the memoir with Judith Ferrara, a Worcester-based writer with deep interest in Kunitz’s work who’s now written a biography of this “formidable and dramatic presence.” “A Feast of Losses: Yetta Dine and Her Son, the Poet Stanley Kunitz” (TidePool) tells the story of Dine herself, of what it is to come to this country and try to make a life, and also as she appears in her son’s poetry (“my mother’s breast was thorny”). “Her writing reveals an outspoken, shrewd, compassionate, independent, resilient, and loving individual with strong family ties,” Ferrara writes. It was her son who urged his mother to write her memories, and she took up the project with passion and verve. Ferrara’s portrait adds depth to the understanding of Kunitz’s work, and more than that, fills in nuance and complexity left out in Kunitz’s portrayal of her.
GrubStreet publishes anthology of writing created in response to Roe v. Wade annulment
In response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022, GrubStreet offered six free and low-cost classes on writing about pregnancy, reproductive justice, miscarriage, and abortion. The intention for the series, according to Director of Programs Erin Weiss, “was to help writers highlight the profoundly personal experience of pregnancy, and the profoundly personal choices we must be allowed to make about our bodies and, ultimately, about our stories.” They’ve recently published an anthology of the essays and poetry produced in this series of classes. “Our Bodies, Our Stories” is a rich and varied selection of stories, revelations, moments of grief, wonder, confusion, pain, and love. There are blood clots in the toilet, a dream of giving birth to a squirrel, the challenge of telling a 4-year old they aborted the baby that would’ve had Down syndrome. “I have lived my best life because I made the choice for abortion,” writes Bethany DeRuiter. These are intimate, powerful pieces. It shouldn’t have to require so much courage to tell these stories — they are so common, so everyday, so human — but that courage is still required speaks to the importance of continuing to share these experiences and fighting for the right to make big, difficult choices about our bodies for ourselves. You can read the anthology online at grubstreet.org or pick up a copy at GrubStreet headquarters.
“Tabula Rasa: Volume 1″ by John McPhee (FSG)
“Elsewhere” by Yan Ge (Scribner)
“Promise” by Rachel Eliza Griffiths (Random House)
Pick of the week
Cheri Anderson at the Bookloft in Great Barrington recommends “Monstrilio” by Gerardo Sámano Córdova (Zando): “How to explain my love of this bizarre book? It is grotesque, heavy, gut-wrenching, and painful and I still loved it. How do you make a monster at once fierce and fragile? Cordova has succeeded. There is a lot in this story to unpack around death, self acceptance, unconditional love, and challenging social norms. Prepare for many uncomfortable squirmy moments while reading, but never without a purpose, and never boring!”