September 23, 2012

A More Diverse Universe Review: The People of Paper

The People of Paper By Salvador Plascencia
Art by Sarah Tillman
Out of print from McSweeney's (HC)
Available now from Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin) (PB)

Aarti of BookLust came up with the idea of the A More Diverse Universe Tour.  From September 23-29, bloggers will be reviewing speculative fiction titles by authors of color.  You can go here to read more about why this tour is happening.  The full schedule is available here.

THE PEOPLE OF PAPER is not an easy book to describe.  You can throw around terms like 'postmodern' and 'magical realism' to try to get a grip on it.  While both of those are accurate, they're too small for THE PEOPLE OF PAPER.  It's a highly experimental novel, ambitious, a mesh of fiction and fact, a meditation on art, the debut of Salvador Plascencia, and it should be a total mess.  There is a character whose name is cut out of the book.  But it's a mesmerizing work that exceeds its ambition and stands apart as something unique and exciting.

I could tell you that there is a woman made of paper in the story.  There is a prophetic baby who speaks in black rectangles.  There is a grown man, Frederico de la Fe, who still wets his bed.  There is the daughter of the man, Little Merced.  There is Saturn, who the man wars against.  There is Saturn, who is the author.  There's enough crazy typography to make TRISTRAM SHANDY and HOUSE OF LEAVES look like your normal left-to-right reading experience.  There is a love story.  There is a gang war.  There are flower pickers.  Most of the book takes place in California, El Monte, to be specific.  But none of the little details can truly prepare you for reading THE PEOPLE OF PAPER.

Yet, it's the small details that linger with you after finishing.  (And okay, the binary chapter, which - if you're like me - you plugged into your computer to find out what it said.  No, I'm not going to give it away.  I was disappointed at first and then liked it.)  THE PEOPLE OF PAPER is a wild ride, but there's a grounding in character that many less-successful experimental novels forget.  Each of the many narrators has a distinct voice.

And, honestly, I can't imagine many readers THE PEOPLE OF PAPER wouldn't appeal to.  It's a book about making art, about writing, about being a character, about reading, about how books work.  It's bibliophile meta that still functions as a story.

Since the A More Diverse Universe Tour is partially about the author, here is some of Plascencia's description of himself, from an interview with the Nashville Review:
"Professionally—albeit a meagerly profitable enterprise—I’m a writer. But I’m not a professional Mexican; that’s Ruben Navarrette’s gig. I’m a Latino. I’m a writer. I identify as both, but not when “Latino” is serving as a modifier. ...

This might seem like I’m contradicting what I said earlier—I’m not—but what was a major [publisher] going to do with an experimental Mexican-American writer? The reality is that—aside from the Cisneros and Dagoberto Gilb, writers who reinforce parochial views of Latinidad—there are very few of us on the majors. Name them. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Alex Espinoza, Joe Loya, and my fellow El Montian Michael Jaime-Becerra. But Joe and Michael were under Rayo, some HarperCollins specialty imprint aimed exclusively at Latinos. The Houghton Mifflin’s and HarperCollins don’t see us as marketable to the general public. There is Luis Rodriguez—a writer that heavily informed me—but even he is pushed as some sort of exotic criminal. ...

But there are obvious advantages, too. Sometimes, for no good reason aside from the fact that I were born south of the Rio Grande, my name gets tangled up with the greats: Bolaño, Borges, García Márquez. I’m never going to complain when that happens."
A small, personal list of suggestions (mostly YA) for further reading:
  • AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor - YA novel in my own TBR
  • ALIF THE UNSEEN by G. Willow Wilson - An exciting genre-bender I've reviewed
  • ANGEL SANCTUARY by Kaori Yuki - My all-time favorite manga (only 20 volumes!)
  • ASH or ADAPTATION by Malinda Lo - Fantasy lovers to the first; sci-fi to the second
  • BATTLE ROYALE by Koushun Takumi - Make up your mind about the comparisons to THE HUNGER GAMES; also it's just an interesting read
  • CITY OF THE BEASTS by Isabel Allende - This series used to be pretty popular
  • THE GIRL WITH BORROWED WINGS by Rinsai Rossetti - A lyrical, lovely debut that I adore
  • THE HUNT by Andrew Fukuda - I have this vampire novel on my to-buy list
  • LEGEND series by Marie Lu - Loved the first book and awaiting the second
  • LOST AND FOUND by Shaun Tan - Anything by him is great but I've reviewed this one
  • ONCE UPON A TIME IN AOTEAROA by Tina Makereti - May be harder to find since it's by a Maori writer and published by a small New Zealand press; I only know about it because I received it as a gift
  • THE SATANIC VERSES by Salman Rushdie - Banned Book Week is coming up; make your own decision about the controversy
  • SORRY PLEASE THANK YOU: Stories by Charles Yu - Yu is an emerging talent
  • TANTALIZE series by Cynthia Leitich Smith - Also has a diverse selection of narrators
  • A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS trans. Husain Haddawy - His translation is so much more better than the popular (public domain) one by Sir Richard Burton I'm not even kidding
  • THE VICIOUS DEEP by Zoraida Córdova - This is my favorite of the mermaid trend

30 comments:

  1. WOW, this sounds like a book and a piece of modern art. I love that there are so many supplements to the reading experience - a character with his name cut out and a binary chapter. I will definitely have to look into this one! I also have heard great things about Alif the Unseen.

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    1. It really is. It's a fun reading experience.

      Alif is a terrific book. Pick it up if you have a chance!

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  2. Sounds REALLY interesting! Next time I'm in the mood for something really different, I'll look for this.

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    1. I hope you do pick it up! It's a great book.

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  3. This book sounds crazy and a good read for me! I'm going to see if my library has it. What made you pick this book up? Was it already on your tbr list? Thanks for the list of suggestions too.

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    1. It was on the optional reading list of a class I took. College was fantastic for expanding my reading horizons.

      Hopefully your library has it or can get it through ILL!

      Delete
  4. Mmmmmmmmmmm...I'm very interested in experimental fiction. Loved Tristram Shandy (have you seen the movie with Steve Coogan???). Wonder if this is available on kindle...thanks for the rec!

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    1. I really want to see the movie - I've heard it's a great adaptation.

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  5. Sounds like it could have veered into the gimmicky but that it avoided that through good writing;-) one to take alook for.

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  6. This sounds random but really good! Love the idea of a chapter in binary, even if a physical copy would be difficult to translate (without it being available online). Interesting there's a name cut out rather than just not given at all.

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    1. Well, that interview does provide the translation at the bottom.

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  7. Lavinia, this one sounds very different and quite exciting. I bet bits of it would stump me. And thanks for including the YA reading list. We'll have a look at those titles. Love this blog tour :)

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    1. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to follow!

      And I'm very pleased you find my list helpful.

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  8. Sounds like an interesting book! I haven't read Tristram Shandy or House of Leaves, though. Sometimes I think I've gotten too old and lazy for experimental fiction, but maybe I'll give this one a try!

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    1. Tristram Shandy is an old one, and unfinished, but still good. (It's one of Laurence Sterne's works.)

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  9. Yes, sign me up! This sounds extraordinary!

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  10. I like your list of suggestions - I really need to jump on some of these titles!

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  12. Sometimes I think that I should just start reading through McSweeney's catalogue, starting at 'A' and onwards. I love that you didn't give away what the Binary section worked out too, that we are left wanting to know it (I really am!), and are curious about the whole experience.

    (BTW, if a comment appears above as deleted, that was me...for some reason, it just kept calling me Anonymous!)

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    1. (No worries, I've had trouble commenting places too!)

      McSweeney's puts out some great books - and I have some new ones by them to review later this year!

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    2. Ooooo, I'll look forward to them!

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  13. This is something I would look at and think I would not like at all. But I've just placed a hold on it at my library because of your review. Thanks!

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    1. Glad I could help you find a new book! Sometimes it's hard to judge based on cover and title alone.

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  14. Your review made me want to go out and buy this right away! I love it when books have various creative elements that help tell the story.

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  15. Wow, this sounds... crazy and amazing and I'm not even sure? Really interesting sounding. Thanks for the review! Also, thanks even more for the suggested reading list!

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    1. It is both crazy and amazing.

      Hope there's something on the list to catch your eye?

      Delete

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