“Walking underground” for the first time in his life, Juan Marcos Villalobos, a freshly arrived migrant to New York City, offers his seat to a woman standing on the subway. Though his English isn’t up to her rude reply, he quickly realizes that good manners in Nueva York are quite different than in Puerto Rico!
Juan Marcos is eager to continue his studies in the United States and rents a room from family friends living in El Barrio, or Spanish Harlem. Soon, he has a job wrapping packages at a department store that pays as much as he made teaching high school at home. As he interacts with the Puerto Rican community in New York, he witnesses the problems his compatriots encounter, including discrimination, inadequate housing, jobs and wages. Despite these problems, friendships and romances bloom and rivalries surface, leading to betrayal and even attempted murder!
Originally published in 1951 as Trópico en Manhattan, it was the first novel to focus on the postwar influx of Puerto Ricans to New York. Cotto-Thorner’s use of code-switching, or “Spanglish,” reflects the characters’ bicultural reality and makes the novel a forerunner of Nuyorican writing and contemporary Latino literature. This new bilingual edition contains a first-ever English translation by J. Bret Maney that artfully captures the style and spirit of the original Spanish. The novel’s exploration of class, race and gender—while demonstrating the community’s resilience and cultural pride—ensures its relevance today.
Click here to listen to an interview with J. Bret Maney about his book, Manhattan Tropics / Trópico en Manhattan.
Click here to listen to Cristina Pérez Jiménez and J. Bret Maney discuss their bilingual edition on the Indoor Voices Podcast.
Winner of a 2020 International Latino Book Award for Best Translation
“This long neglected classic, from 1951, is a gem of a novel.” —Ernesto Quiñonez, Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas
“Finally available to English-language readers, Guillermo Cotto-Thorner’s novel Trópico en Manhattan (1951) is a forgotten landmark of U.S. Latinx literature, the first major literary depiction of the Puerto Rican Great Migration, and essential reading for anyone interested in midcentury New York City or in genealogies of translingual and multiethnic writing.” —Urayoán Noel, New York University
“Thanks to J. Bret Maney’s beautiful and accurate translation of Trópico en Manhattan by Guillermo Cotto-Thorner, readers can now enjoy a novel that is central to the mid-twentieth century Puerto Rican diaspora…. This edition is essential reading for those interested in rethinking the intertwined issues of diasporic traditions, empire, and memory.” —Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones, Princeton University
“J.Bret Maney and Cristina Pérez Jiménez’s edition breathes new life into Trópico en Manhattan/Manhattan Tropics and releases it from its enclosure in the cold halls of graduate school reading lists and the bookshelves of eccentric antiquarians. The fact that it comes back to us in a bilingual edition is no small feat, and is a testament to the important and ethical role that can be played by engaged publishers such as Arte Público Press.” —Sergio Gutiérrez Negrón, Reading in Translation
“Publicado en 1951 este texto conserva la actualidad que requieren las buenas novelas para mantenerse vigentes…. [R]elata las vicisitudes de la comunidad puertorriqueña en Nueva York, mejor dicho, relata en esencia el nacimiento del Barrio de la gran manzana a finales de los 40s e inicio de los 50s.” —Octavio Lasañe, Hola Cultura
“La novela … sirve como texto seminal para la literatura puertorriqueña posterior en los Estados Unidos y es de celebrarse esta nueva edición bilingüe con la traducción al inglés de J. Bret Maney.” —José Jacobo, Camino real: estudios de las hispanidades norteamericanas
“This seminal novel should be required reading for academics and the general public alike not only for being a foundational classic of human value for Puerto Ricans, but also because it shares a literary style with the writings of other Spanish-speaking groups in the United States to date.”—Hispania
GUILLERMO COTTO-THORNER was born in Puerto Rico in 1916 and migrated to New York City in 1938. In addition to publishing two novels, Trópico en Manhattan (1951) and Gambeta (1971), Cotto-Thorner was a Spanish-language journalist, civic leader and Presbyterian minister. He remained an active and progressive voice in the US Hispanic community until his death in 1983.
J. BRET MANEY is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Lehman College, The City University of New York.