Rolando Hinojosa American Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Superficially, one might compare Hinojosa’s major work, “Klail City Death Trip,” to Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1931). Proust’s magnum opus consists of seven interrelated novels; “Klail City Death Trip,” too, consists of a number of discrete, individually titled works.

Hinojosa’s novels are not novels, however, in the sense that Proust’s are. Proust observes the conventions of the traditional novel, having the expected protagonist and sequential plot. Each of the seven parts of Remembrance of Things Past is written in prose. Most of the installments of “Klail City Death Trip,” too, are written in prose, but half of the third book in the series, Korean Love Songs from Klail City Death Trip (1978), is poetry.

Hinojosa wrote the first two elements of his series—Sketches of the Valley, and Other Works and Klail City y sus alrededores (1976; Klail City: A Novel, 1987)—in Spanish; they were translated into English by Gustavo Valadez and Rosaura Sanchez respectively. Hinojosa did not write Korean Love Songs in Spanish, because the book is set in a milieu half a world away from Mercedes, and English seemed to the author to be a more appropriate vehicle of communication than Spanish. Yet he wrote his fourth installment, Mi querido Rafa (1981; Dear Rafe, 1985), in Spanish, then translated it himself for the English language edition.

The next three works in the series, Rites and Witnesses (1982), Partners in Crime: A Rafe Buenrostro Mystery (1985), and The Useless Servants (1995), were written in English. The author wrote Claros varones de Belken-Fair Gentlemen of Belken County (1986) in both Spanish and English, and the book is printed with Spanish on one page and English on the facing page.

In speaking of the larger work of which each of these installments is a part, one can probably feel comfortable in designating the whole series a novel. Hinojosa has said that he conceives of the series as one novel with many parts. The individual parts of the series are quite brief, seldom exceeding one hundred fifty pages and sometimes coming in at fewer than one hundred.

It is difficult to generalize on Hinojosa’s style. Speaking, however, in broad terms—and acknowledging that exceptions exist—one can say that much of Hinojosa’s work adopts an interview style. That is, as in Becky and Her Friends (1990), a given volume may emphasize one character, yet the book is so arranged that in the subdivisions, each headed by the name of a person, the reader is given a personal insight into Becky’s character and reputation by the person speaking.

In the case of Becky and Her Friends, twenty-seven characters (including Becky and her first husband, Ira Escobar) speak. Some have little to say; their sections might consist of less than one page. Others are more voluble, but no section is inordinately long. It is interesting that Becky’s second husband, Jehú Malacara, whom Hinojosa’s readers already know well through his twenty-three long letters to Rafe Buenrostro in Dear Rafe, is not among the cast of characters who give their impressions of Becky.

Some of Hinojosa’s short works have more than a hundred characters in them. The aesthetic explanation for this is that the author is attempting to re-create the ambiance of a closely knit Tex-Mex community in which people are interrelated, in which everyone knows everyone else’s business and has a strong and definite opinion about it. The result may seem chaotic to anyone reading about it, yet Hinojosa’s books are not difficult to follow. Because most of the characters recur from work to work, the demands the author places on readers make it possible for them to keep track of the individual characters without too much trouble.

The nature of Hinojosa’s storytelling is such that his work is filled with contradictions, but this is because life is filled with contradictions. People are not consistent, and this author makes no effort to impose a false consistency upon his characters. Furthermore, Hinojosa, a singularly intelligent writer well schooled in literary criticism, is fully cognizant of the holes that critics might punch in his novels.

Because of this, Hinojosa has consciously avoided publishing his early writing with major publishing houses, preferring to work with small, specialized publishers who allowed him greater control over his work than most major publishers would permit. More recently, Hinojosa has published with university presses that also allow him greater freedom of expression than most commercial publishers would. Hinojosa’s writing has been more celebrated abroad than at home, perhaps because a more vigorous literary avant-garde exists in Europe than in the United States.

It is the conflicting voices in Hinojosa’s writing that create and sustain the dramatic tension essential to its progression. In all of his work, he writes from a base outside mainstream American experience. This is not the literature of Boston Brahmins or Newport socialites. It is, rather, the literature of an ordinary, bilingual-bicultural populace confined within an area that constitutes Hinojosa’s microcosm. When the stories leave this circumscribed setting, as they do in Korean Love Songs from Klail City Death Trip or The Useless Servants, they are still about citizens of Klail City (Mercedes, Texas) who are, through necessity, acting out their roles in the broad context imposed by a military action on a distant continent.

Hinojosa has been called an ethnopoetic and a sociopoetic writer. Both designations apply to his work. He is perhaps the most successful literary exponent of Chicano life in the southwestern United States. He focuses more on people than on ideology, although ideologies emerge through the interplay of the characters he develops within the continuing and interlinking course of his novels.

Korean Love Songs from Klail City Death Trip

First published: 1978 (printed 1980)

Type of work: Poems and prose sketches

Rafe Buenrostro, drafted from Klail City to fight in the Korean War, recounts in poetry and prose his wartime experience.

Rafe Buenrostro, Rolando Hinojosa’s autobiographical character in this third installment of the Klail City series, steps outside the cultural context in which readers were first introduced to him in two earlier novels, Sketches of the Valley, and Other Works and Klail City: A Novel. Because this story is removed from Rafe’s accustomed Tex-Mex environment with its bilingual-bicultural atmosphere, Hinojosa wrote it in English rather than Spanish.


(The entire section is 2825 words.)