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Literary Divorce Ablack literature in this country enjoyed a long and distinguished histo ry prior to the publication of Alex Haley’s Roots, it was in fact the “blockbuster” work which took a two-by-four to the mule of American mainstream taste. According to New York publishers and Hollywood producers alike, the financial success of Roots first opened their eyes to the fact that the market for black literature was enormous and, more importantly, not all black. Hispanic writers have had to confront a similar set of barriers. Some of the finest, most exciting literature being produced in America today comes from Hispanic writers, yet only very few Nicholasa Mohr, Sandra Cisneros, Gary Soto, for example have broken through the profit-based biases of the major U.S. publishing houses. There had been no Hispanic Roots to prove that the market is there. That has changed with the recent publication of Victor Villaserior’s family saga, Rain of Gold. Initially accepted by Putnam, one of the largest publishing houses in the country, Rain of Gold rated a $75,000 advance on royalties and was placed with the Bookof-the-Month Club as an alternate selection. But Putnam wanted to change the title of the bobk, and, even more devastating to the author, list it as fiction. Since Rain of Gold contains family pho tographs and genealogical charts of very real people, Putnam’s decision seemed more outrageous than odd to Victor Villaselior, who had put in more than a decade of research to get at the truth of his family’s experience. Putnam balked, however, when Villaserior offered to give back his $75,000 advance. The showdown came in a New York restaurant where the author met with Putnam’s top executives. The meeting and the contract dispute ended abruptly with Villasefior shouting ‘”I want a divorce and I want my baby!” He got both. Rain of Gold ended up with Nicolas Kanellos of Arte Publico Press, which is housed at the University of Houston. Arte Publico is the leading publisher of U.S. Hispanic literature, but still, a deal like the one Putnam offered was out of the question. Villasetior was satisfied, however, so long as Arte Publico would do the job right. Kanellos’ initial fear that the project was too big has proved groundless. According to the delighted Kanellos, two months after publication, the first major print run of 30,000 had sold out, a major paperback deal had been negotiated with Dell, a halfdozen foreign language translations are in the works, and several film studios are vying for motion picture rights. PBS has already optioned the book for a six-episode documentary. B.M. BOOKS & THE CULTURE Southwestern Roots BY BRYCE MILLIGAN RAIN OF GOLD. By Victor Villaseiior Houston: Arte Publico Press 551 pages, $19.95 Victor and Guadalupe Gomez and Juan and Margarita Villaserior lived in separate highland villages in central Mexico. Neither of their families was known to the other before the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, but the events of that calamity would drive them together in a new land. Fleeing their beloved mountains they traveled through a world of war and starvation south of the U.S. border, then into poverty and discrimination north of the border. Both families are led by fiercely independent women, wise and indomitable. In her later years, Margarita Villaselior is the kind of woman who sits in the front pew of the church so she can chew out the Virgin Mary, but good, without “her son getting in the way.” Her morning stint in the outhouse, with her Lucky Strikes and a glass of whiskita is also a religious time, caught halfway between heaven and earth, so to speak.Margarita Gomez is religious in a more traditional way, yet just as strong. In Mexico, when the war invaded their quiet valley over and over again, she hid her children and herself beneath piles of chicken manure, yet she was the kind of woman whose packed dirt floor was cleaner than most wooden ones. Among the many children of these two remarkable women are Lupe Gomez and Salvador Villasefior, who will eventually meet and fall in love in California. One of Lupe and Salvador’s children is the author, Victor Villaserior the screenwriterwho gave us “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez.” Rain of Gold is his stunning novel-like recreation of his parents’ early lives. Most families have a rogue or two in their pasts, but Salvador Villaserior is a classic. It is almost as if he were born for the role. As a child on the trek north out ofMexico, Salvador was left behind by the train carrying his mother and sisters. \(On a dare, he and some other boys got off, as the train picked up speed, to see who had the courage to wait the longest before running to foot and without water through theChihuahuan desert, before he found his family at a railway camp. Just across the U.S. border, Salvador is San Antonio writer Bryce Milligan is completing a critical study of Texas Hispanic women writers. jailed for a minor offense. To save his mother and sisters from starvation or worse, Salvador “sells” his life to the father of another prisoner by agreeing to confess to the other man’s crime the murder of a Texas Ranger. Faced with brutal gang rapes, Salvador risks all to escape, literally holding his life in his own hands the result of a gash across the abdomen. He heads north and ends up in Montana, where he works as a dynamite driller for a time, before becoming a professional gambler under the tutelage of a heart-of-gold whorehouse madam and a man he later kills in self defense. He also finds that there are places in the United States where a person is judged not by the color of his skin or the sound of his name, but by his wits. By the time he gets back to his mother, now liv ing in poverty in California, Salvador is amustachioed young man, and the perfect protopachuco. Inventive, quick handed, and with a taste for whiskey better than prohibition bathtub gin, Salvador learns to make decent whiskey when he finds himself in jail for a time with an Old World distiller. Salvador quickly becomes one of the most successful bootleggers in all of Southern California. The only problem is the family of Lupe, the girl he loves, is adamantly opposed to drinking. There are ways around such obstacles. Lupe is a story all to herself. One night shortly after the turn of the century, a meteor smashed into a mountain in Mexico, just above la lluvia de oro Rain of Gold mine. Thinking the world, was coming to an abrupt and fiery end, Victor and Guadalupe 18 MAY 8, 1992