Odisea del Norte
by Mario Bencastro
Publication Date: March 30, 1999
Bind: Trade Paperback
The hired help, the waiters, the busboys, the illegal nannies of the rich and powerful… this is one story of the humble many who, behind the scenes, sustain Washington’s privileged few.Look Inside
Here is the powerful, original Spanish-language version of Mario Bencastro’s latest novel, recently published in English by Arte Público Press as Odyssey to the North. Decades of civil wars in Central America, combined with the need for manpower in the United States, have made the Hispanic migrant worker a stock character in urban American life. This is the story of one such man: Calixto, who heads north “with his stomach empty but his soul full of hope.” Award-winning author Bencastro creates a sensitive, caring portrait of Calixto as he seeks not only work, but safety from political persecution in his homeland. We feel both the heartbreak and humor of Calixto’s misunderstandings as a stranger in a strange land. Through a literary mosaic of conversations, court transcripts, newspaper clippings, and intimate letters, Bencastro allows Calixto and his fellow immigrants—who have come from Guatemala, El Salvador, and even further south—to tell their own stories as they struggle to survive in the restaurant kitchens, bars, courtrooms, crowded tenements, and detention centers that become their proving grounds.
Finalist, 1999 Independent Publisher Books Awards-Multi-Cultural Fiction
“Through an artful collage of the conversations between Calixto and his friends, news reports, courtroom transcripts, love letters and anecdotes, Bencastro documents the hardships Calixto suffers upon arriving in the promised land—and finding it rampantly racist. Unpretentious and reportorial, Bencastro’s tone is welcomely understated–and his message all the more powerful for it.”—Publishers Weekly
“A heartfelt story of political oppression and exile… Bencastro’s directness and understated compassion make Calixto’s disillusionment credible and quite moving.”—Kirkus Reviews
A native of El Salvador, MARIO BENCASTRO is an award-winning novelist, playwright and painter. He took up the brush and canvas as the first outlet for his artistic expression. The medium garnered him remarkable success from an early age, with his works gracing the walls of major galleries in El Salvador, the United States, Latin America and Europe. Despite his success as a painter, the social and political drama unfolding in his country compelled him to concentrate his artistic endeavors in literature. His first novel, A Shot in the Cathedral (Arte Público Press, 1996), is a powerful work focusing on the coup d’etat in El Salvador in 1979. It was a finalist in the international Diana y Novedades Literary Prize. Publishers Weekly called it “a vivid newsreel of a country disintegrating.” His subsequent work, The Tree of Life: Stories of Civil War (1997), blends fantasy with reality to show readers the daily struggle of ordinary Salvadorans to survive the tragedy of civil war. Most recently, his work has turned north of the border as he explores the lives of Central American immigrants in the United States. Kirkus Reviews called Odyssey to the North “a heartfelt story of political oppression and exile … credible and quite moving.” While all of his work is appropriate for young adults and his novels are used in high schools across the country, he wrote a novel specifically for young people: Viaje a la tierra del abuelo (2004), or A Promise to Keep (2005). The novel, which focuses on a young Salvadoran boy raised in the United States, is part adventure and part coming-of-age as the struggle to keep a promise to his grandfather raises questions of identity, homeland and culture. In his new collection of stories, Paraíso portátil / Portable Paradise (2010), he again brings to life the impact of war and exile on a community.