Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Madonnas of Echo Park - Brando Skyhorse

The Madonnas of Echo Park is Brando Skyhorse's debut novel. It wasn't a book I'd heard of so I started read without any preconceived notions. I was so glad I read the author's notes in the beginning - it absolutely captured me. Brando grew up in Echo Park, a ethnically diverse neigbourhood in Los Angeles. The novel sprang from an interaction he had at a 6th grade class dance party. Aurora Esperanza asks Brando to dance to the first song - Madonna's Borderline. He declines, but with the phrase "I can't dance with you - you're a Mexican." When he returns to school the next week, he is ready to apologize, but Aurora is gone. When he asks his teacher " How am I going to apologize to her?", she replies "You'll have to find another way to do it." Twenty five years later - here is the apology - the fictional book, The Madonnas of Echo Park. Now ironically - Brando's mother brought him up to believe his biological father was native, not Mexican. He was unaware of this until later in life.

The novel is a series of short stories, with each linked to the next. It begins with Aurora's estranged father waiting for day labour. We see the neighbourhood of Echo Park through his eyes. The story then segues through seemingly unrelated stories - a bus ride gone very wrong, a woman who believes she has seen the Virgin Mary, a young girl shot down as she dances to Madonna music on a street corner, and more until we 'meet' Aurora in the last chapter. The links are sometimes very surprising, jumping out and heading in a direction you least expect. (Madonna did film the video for Borderline in Echo Park)

Brando brings this neighbourhood to life and the characters, locale and dialogue have the ring of authenticity. The stories are powerful and some are unsettling. The fourth story, Rules of the Road, is about Efren, a Mexican born naturalized American who starts a race war after inadvertently killing a black man. His mind set and determination to follow the rules was unsettling.

Skyhorse presents many different voices and outlooks, male and female, all with equal talent. This was a completely different read for me, but I really enjoyed it. A really strong debut novel. The follow up -
Things My Fathers Taught Me - about life with 5 stepfathers - should be an interesting read as well.

And did the 'real' Aurora ever read the book? Brando did meet and talk to her, but wasn't sure if she would read the book.

Read an excerpt of The Madonnas of Echo Park. There is a reading club guide prepared as well.


bermudaonion said...

I say Skyhorse on a panel in New York and have been anxious to read this book ever since. I'm so glad to see you enjoyed it.

Ladytink_534 said...

What a neat title! I haven't heard of this before but it sounds interesting.