Bury those easy-to-read Black romance books. Mosquito is where African-American literature is heading as we approach the twenty-first century.--E. Ethelbert Miller, Emerge
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Depending on your tolerance for digression, Gayl Jones's Mosquito will either be hugely entertaining or absolutely crazy-making. The heroine and narrator of this hefty tome is Sojourner Jane Nadine Johnson--Mosquito, to her friends--an African American truck driver with a mind as flighty as the insect she's named for. You know what you're up against from the very first paragraph in which Mosquito expounds on Texas border towns, tanning products, cacti, a teacup shaped like a cactus, the town of Brownsville, and the Kiowa word for Brownsville (which she can't remember). All of this is delivered in lively dialect: "Am got a few of them cactus plants along Dairy Mart Road, though they ain't the archetypal cactus. I think it's Dairy Mart Road and some of that poverty grass. I guess it called poverty grass 'cause it the Southwest, you know. I'm going to have to find out the names of these grasses and plants and trees so's I can tell y'all what they is. I guess that's what I likes about the Southwest, though, the landscape. Well, I likes the people that I likes (the Perfectability Baptist Church would want me to say more about the likability of peoples and us commandments to love), but when you gets to the Southwest it got it own distinctive landscape." And obviously Sojourner Jane Nadine Johnson, a.k.a. Mosquito, has her own distinctive personality.
What sets the story rolling is Mosquito's discovery of a young pregnant Mexican woman in the back of her truck. Not surprisingly, it takes all of chapter 1 for her to actually get to this discovery as she is distracted numerous times by her mail, other people she's met along the road, a trip to an aquarium in Florida, and the relationship between yoga and yogurt--to name just a few of the many, many subjects she expounds upon before finally getting back around to the pregnant Mexican in the truck. From here on out, the novel concerns Mosquito's involvement in a "new underground railroad," a sanctuary movement for illegal immigrants. In addition to mother-to-be Maria, we meet Delgadina, a Chicana bartender and wannabe detective; Monkey Bread, a childhood friend; and Ray, a man Mosquito might just be willing to slow down for. What raises this novel above the merely picaresque is Jones's sophisticated political sensibility: as Mosquito makes her physical journey across the Southwest, she embarks on a cultural odyssey as well, examining the struggles of all the "second class peoples" to find a place for themselves in America. Letters, plays, poetry, and songs punctuate the narrative and Mosquito's distinctive voice always keeps the story "keepin' on." --Alix WilberAbout the Author:
Gayl Jones was born in Kentucky in 1949. She attended Connecticut College and Brown University; she has taught at Wellesley and the University of Michigan. Her critically acclaimed books include Corregidora, Eva's Man, White Rat, Song for Anninho, Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition in African American Literature, and The Healing, a National Book Award finalist.
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