These are the stories of travelers on a spiritual quest between worlds. Part mythtaker, part poet, Omar Castañeda is an original, and these stories are unlike any in our literature.
Remembering to Say ‘Mouth’ or ‘Face’
In this award-winning collection of short stories, Guatemalan American Omar S. Castañeda uses a unique and richly textured mixture of magic realism and “attack dog fiction” to explore the wrenching conflicts of biculturality. The stories in Remembering to Say ‘Mouth’ or ‘Face’ depict the troubled and often darkly humorous lives of people struggling against the slow tectonics of violence. The collection opens in the United States, where drugs and self-annihilating rage overwhelm one of the Castañeda’s most sharply drawn and subtly sarcastic narrators. In other stories characters in search of their Mayan roots inhabit both real and mythical Central American landscapes.
The characters in these stories know both Americas but find a home in neither. The confront violence and vanquish, at least for themselves, those deep ills caused by living with racism. Buffeted by cultural conflicts and animated by the desire to construct a new language of cultural translations, they embark on spiritual journeys that ultimately enable them to recover and transform Guatemalan traditions.
Drawing heavily on the Popol Vuh, this collection is full of the realistic magic of mythological connections and contemporary scenes. It’s a blending of cultures. A long tumpline of stories that burden the head. Castañeda’s stories are electromagnetic fields of imagery, character, and happening, which bend words as well as boundaries. I can feel the crosswinds of this book.
In the stories of Omar Castañeda, we cross borders with a surefooted guide: the rivers of immigrants on a pilgrimage, the jungles of ancient myth, the hard urban landscapes of sleeping addicts and sleepless lovers. Guatemala haunts and invigorates these tales like Castañeda’s Lord of Festival, dead but not dead, the face of magic and ritual and danger illuminated in flashes of poetic language.
Not only is Castañeda a worthy heir to Asturias, but Castañeda’s own singular stylistic and thematic sensibilities expand the scope of the movement, achieving a most rare synthesis of hemisphere visions: north and south; First World and Third World; mythical truth and contemporary socio-political reality.
By driving clear through drugs, sexuality, philosophy and myth, even through anger and pain, Castañeda gets beneath the skin of experience.
These stories take us to places which are sometimes hostile, often magical, but always of profound consequence. Rendered in harshly evocative prose, this brilliant and disturbing collection blends urban legends with the myth and legend of the Guatemala Maya.