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BOOKS AND THE CULTURE Words without sound how terribly deaf What if I were to remain here in the words forever? Tomas Rivera COMPARISONS,” wrote an English-speaking contemporary of Lope de Vega, “are odious.” Yet the publication of two translations of Tomas Rivera’s “Y no se lo trag6 la tierra,” both bearing the imprimatur of the same Texas publishing house, suggests that the reviewer press on, keeping in mind along the way the caveat of the Elizabethan playwright who shared with Lope, the same day, month and year of death \(unreformed calendar Rivera’s small obramaestra was released. Eighty pages of fragments, anecdotes and bosquejos, Y no se lo trag6 la tierra begins as a child’s description of his attempt to recall a forgotten year, and ends, after all, with an embrace. Rivera was born in Crystal City in 1935 and as a child lived the migrant’s life that was to become the stuff of his fiction. It was an experience that Rivera never left behind; rather, he carried it, as literary critic Julian Olivares wrote, “like sand in the cuffs of his overalls.” Through the years of undergraduate and graduate education, and on to his brief tenure as a Chancellor in the University of California system, Rivera remained faithful to his past; he was, he never forgot, the son of migrant farmworkers from el Cristal, where in 1984 he was buried. Tierra begins with a simple declarative sentence. ” Aquel ario se le perido.” “That year was lost to him,” by the translation of Houston poet Evangelina Vigil-Pifidn. Like Thomas Wolfe who prays in his epigraph, “Oh lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost come back again,” Rivera too begins with his description of an attempt to retrieve a past forgotten. Then gradually, and in a form that is deceptively simple, he recaptures the lost year, a year passed standing for hours in the backs of trucks traveling between Texas and Minnesota or Indiana. Much of the sparse narrative reconstructs the migrant experience as interpreted by a child. And much of it is very obviously \(and this was later AND THE EARTH DID NOT DEVOUR HIM By Tomas Rivera, translated by Evangelina Vigil-Pinion Houston: Arte Ptiblico Press, 1987 160 pages, $8.50 THIS MIGRANT EARTH By Rolando Hinojosa Houston: Arte Pdblico Press, 1987 128 pages, $8.00 confirmed through the writing of twelve episodes they’re not quite chapters that lie between the narrator’s introduction and a final resolution of theme but not of plot, suggest the passage of twelve months. Rivera, according to Olivares, once even considered using the months of the year as chapter titles. Each of the twelve chapters is a small moment, a fragment of a life. Some are seen and told by the child narrator, others by a mixture of dialogue and third person omniscient voice. And each is followed by a separate, paragraph-long anecdote that is almost always only in the most remote way related to the chapter. These small conclusions usually represent a shift in grammatic or dramatic perspective and some portend a later theme. Others, like the straightforward description of a wedding that follows the telling of the death of two small children in a housefire, suggest that life rememberdd is fragmentary. Perhaps, even that life as we experience it is fragmented. Rivera made no attempt to string all of this together in a linear fashion, episode after episode building toward the resolution of a developed plot. That all works so well, makes Tierra a masterpiece in execution. Technically the small hovel is almost without flaw. All of this not only hangs together, at the end, becomes one, fused together through a unity of theme and the small narrative mechanisms employed by the author. RIVERA’S RAW MATERIAL is the workaday migrant experience, lives passed in the backs of stake-bed trucks “so crowded that we couldn’t smoke,” riding straight through, standing, from somewhere south of San Antonio all the way to Minnesota for the sugar beet harvest: Just before I fell asleep on my feet it felt like my knees were going to buckle. But, I guess your body gets used to it right away ’cause it doesn’t seem so hard anymore. But the kids must feel real tired standing up like this all the way and with nothing to hold onto. Us grownups can at least hold on to this center bar that supports the canvas. And to think we’re not as crowded as other times. I think there must be forty of us at the most .. . Seven paragraphs and seven shifts in dramatic perspective later, Rivera has moved on to a woman who also stands and waits for the sun to rise, so that a driver can repair the truck stalled in some midwestern state on the shoulder of the highway. The woman’s thoughts are with her husband and whatever awaits them when they arrive: Poor viejo. He must be real tired now, standing up the whole trip. I saw him nodding off a little while ago. And no way to help him, what with these two in my arms. How I wish we were there already so we could lie down, even if it’s on the hard floor. . . . I hope I’ll be able to help him out in the fields, but I’m afraid that this year, with these kids, I won’t be able to do anything. . . . If only they were just a bit older. I’m still going to try my best to help him out. . . . My poor viejo. . . . Rivera documents the small domestic crises of families. Of a child’s perception of a father’s fear of entering a school, a place utterly foreign to the man, he writes: “Come on, son, we’re almost there.” “You gonna take me to the principal?” “Of course not. Don’t tell me you don’t know how to speak English yet. Look, that’s the entrance over there. Just ask if you don’t know where to go. Don’t be shy, ask someone. Don’t be afraid.” “. . . Now, you behave, you hear me?” “But why don’t you help me?” “No. You’ll do just fine, don’t be afraid.” Rivera Reconsidered By Louis Dubose THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17