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The Storyteller with Nike Airs and other Barrio Stories
ISBN: 1-879960-34-6

By Kleya Forté-Escamilla
Review by: Moira Richards

06/06/05

I had to look up the meaning of ‘‘Barrio’’ because I have no Spanish at all, and that is what I like most about Aunt Lute books. They always introduce me to people and cultures way over on the other side of the planet where I know I’ll never get to set my feet. Perhaps in South Africa a barrio would be the places that we know as townships – residential areas where the people live in financial poverty but with a wealth of resilience.

The thirteen short pieces in Kleya Forté-Escamilla’s collection include tales of lust and passion like "2 Rock Blues" and the enticingly named "The Painter and the Vampire." Another story, "Adonde Vive Dios?" ("Where Does God Live?" … and where would I be without babelfish.altavista.com?) demonstrates very firmly that God helps those who help themselves. My favourites I think, are stories like "El Velatorio de Chapa Diaz" and "The Storyteller with Nike Airs" that ignore our conventional boundaries between the spiritual and the material worlds. In these, one person might have a petulant exchange with the angel who has dropped by for a surprise visit or a teenager might slide into an old woman’s memory to gather some strands of her life’s story together to enable her to continue living in this world for a while longer.

I’ve not mentioned the tales that tell of pain that no one should ever have to live with, and how people just do. Nor the ones in which an unexpected joy is brought in to transform a child’s life. The collection is as varied and as full of vitality as is life itself and although many are the same stories that could be spun anywhere in the world, these are enriched with the unique flavours of the Hispanic culture in the United States.

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