By Andi Berlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 29, 2005
In a world of bang-for-your-buck storytelling, interesting characters seem to always take a back seat to bestsellers with fast plotlines and contrived romances.
It almost seems like the serious literary novel has been shot in the head by its archenemy or run over by a freight train and gone up in a ball of flames.
But that's not the case with "ĄCaramba!," the first novel by our protagonist, Nina Marie Martinez. She may be an author, not a literary character, but she's just as interesting and talented as anyone you could read about in a book.
Martinez writes about characters and develops interesting stories around them (not instead of them). Her novel, set in the fictional town of Lava Landing, Calif., tells the stories of six vivid characters, each with different experiences and agendas.
"My book was created by creating these quirky characters and trying to explain why they were the way they were," Martinez said.
These explanations can get rather intricate at times and even mystical at others.
One of the characters is Javier, a devout Christian mariachi player who was named after a man who died eating a hard-shelled taco after gallbladder surgery.
Another character, 27-year-old Consuelo, has a fear of public transportation because she is visited in her dreams every full moon by her womanizing father who died after driving drunk over the town's train tracks and getting hit by a train.
Literary scholars call this supernatural writing magical realism, but Martinez calls it a way of life. The only child of a Mexican-American father and a Caucasian mother of German descent, Martinez has experienced the mysticism of Mexican culture firsthand.
When she was little, Martinez remembers praying with a rosary with her family every year to help her departed grandfather out of purgatory.
"Now if you were to say to my Mexican grandmother, 'That's magical realism,' she'd look at you with a blank face," Martinez said.
While the novel has a distinct Mexican flavor, it is not just for a Mexican audience. Martinez transcends boundaries by creating characters and situations that everyone can relate to.
Because she has learned from the writings of everyone from Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Pynchon to the French Marxist Louis Althusser, Martinez gets offended when she is cast into the racial stereotype of the Latin American novelist.
Martinez said she remembers answering reporters' racist questions about what "Anglos" can learn from her book. In addition, she said people come up to her at book signings and ask that the autograph be addressed to their Latina friend instead.
"There's this idea that we only read within our own culture, like, that's not for us. It's really quite disturbing," Martinez said.
But Martinez will not let that problem inhibit her from branching out and making each of her novels unique. "You only get to write a book once," Martinez said. "Although some authors keep writing the same book over and over and over, and it keeps selling and selling and selling."
Some may call it a bestseller, but Martinez would probably say it's a character flaw.
Martinez is speaking as part of the Prose Series on Wednesday in the Modern Languages Auditorium. The reading starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are free.