Book Review: Names on a Map

Book Review | Names on a Map by Benjamin Alire Saenz | Vamos a Leer

A little late, but better than never.  We wanted to be sure to share with you our thoughts on February’s featured book before the month is over! En la Clase will be back this Friday.

Names on a Map
Written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Harper Perennial, 2008
ISBN: 978-0061285691
Age level: Adult

Book Summary

The Espejo family of El Paso, Texas, is like so many others in America in 1967, trying to make sense of a rapidly escalating war they feel does not concern them. But when the eldest son, Gustavo, a complex and errant rebel, receives a certified letter ordering him to report to basic training, he chooses to flee instead to Mexico. Retreating back to the land of his grandfather—a foreign country to which he is no longer culturally connected—Gustavo sets into motion a series of events that will have catastrophic consequences on the fragile bonds holding the family together.

Told with raw power and searing bluntness, and filled with important themes as immediate as today’s headlines, Names on a Map is arguably the most important work to date of a major American literary artist.

My Thoughts

Like everything else I’ve read by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Names on a Map does not disappoint. He tells a captivating story that is simultaneously beautiful and devastating. For me, reading one of his books is always a deeply moving experience. Recently, I heard the term brutiful used to describe something that is both beautiful and brutal at the same time. While brutiful certainly doesn’t do justice to the aesthetic or lyricism of Sáenz’s writing, I think the idea of the word captures an important aspect of what makes his work so outstanding.  For those familiar with Sáenz’s other novels, you may find his characters here comfortingly familiar as they seem to have pieces of Sammy, Gigi, Aristotle, and Dante, among others. Continue reading