The Alphabet in My Hands

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Alphabet in My Hands: A Writing Life is not so much a linear account of Marjorie Agosin's life as it is a series of brief evocations of a poet's experiences growing up and into middle-age in two countries. The book's sections, some as terse as six lines, are in effect discrete prose poems that ponder objects—“Apron,” “Desk,” “Bread”—and people—“Aunt Lucha,” “Omama Helena,” “Maria Luisa”— that have left a vivid impression on the author.

The granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Europe, Agosin grew up being made to feel an outsider in Catholic Chile. She is fascinated by Christian images and practices but feels strong affection for Jewish holidays. Following the overthrow of President Salvador Allende in 1972 and a short sojourn in war-torn Israel, Agosin moves to the United States, where, in rural Georgia, she feels a double outcast, as both a Latina and a Jew. In Massachusetts, where she becomes a professor at Wellesley College, she feels less alienated, though, living in two languages, she continues to feel her sense of self most closely bound to Spanish, the language in which she wrote The Alphabet in My Hands. “I am a Jewish writer who writes in Spanish and lives in America,” declares Agosin, who confirms her identity in this short, allusive, and elusive book.