Gabriel's Fire: A Memoir

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9780226010670: Gabriel's Fire: A Memoir

Like many boys, Luis Gabriel Aguilera grew up with cartoons, music, friends, and first loves. As he entered his teenage years, he faced the typical questions of adolescence—what kind of person did he want to be? how should he live his life? But for Aguilera, now in his twenties, these questions had a particular urgency. A Mexican immigrant, he came of age in a Polish neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago that was encroached upon by threats of gangs and drugs. He attended Catholic school and, at age thirteen, began an affair with one of the teachers at the local elementary school. All the while he documented his teenage years in a series of journals, which have now grown into Gabriel's Fire.

Aguilera's memoir is not just an account of race relations and street life in the inner city, nor of the plight of the immigrant and the dilemma of class identity for a "minority" family. Gabriel's Fire also movingly recounts the peculiarly daunting and inspiring moments of a particular age, riddled with confusion, desires, and duties and recorded by an exceptionally observant and articulate young man. Aguilera writes that he "grew into" the English language when he was eleven or twelve, and his recollections reflect his newfound delight with words—the conversations, arguments, taunts, song lyrics, and casual interchanges of his youth are rendered here with an immediacy and directness rare in contemporary memoirs.

Both a picture of American culture of the 1980s and 1990s and a coming-of-age story, Gabriel's Fire counters mainstream and mass-mediated images of the inner city, Hispanic culture, and troubled youth. In its honesty and energy, it is a poignant and compelling story of one man's formative years.

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About the Author:

Luis Gabriel Aguilera lives in Chicago. He is the cofounder of a musical production company, Full Spectrum.

From Publishers Weekly:

An unbuttoned self-portrait of a Mexican immigrant growing up in a predominantly Polish blue-collar neighborhood on Chicago's South Side between 1985 and 1991, this earnest memoir is based on journals Aguilera kept between ages 13 and 18. Precocious and outspoken, he plunges us into a neighborhood rife with discrimination, racist white gangs, drugs and violence. Without much guidance from his overworked parents, who seem preoccupied with their own arguments, or from his two brothers, he turns for support to a priest. But Father Tom, as presented here, turns out to be a racist who uses the "N word," watches porn videotapes and fondles male students. At 13, Aguilera begins a sexual affair with schoolteacher Kim McGregory, a woman twice his age; only stern warnings from nuns in the Catholic school that he attends induce him to break it off. Despite the publisher's comparison of the book to contemporary classics of Latino life, it never really catches fire. In his stance as an idealistic adolescent rebelling against a phony adult world, Aguilera comes off as sensitive and full of integrity one minute, and indifferent and cocky the next: he joins a gang, quits his busboy job in a profane outburst, then makes a snide joke about shooting Gandhi to death. His overuse of four-letter words--often a dozen per page--may accurately mirror a macho world where cussing is cool, but it is tedious to read. Though Aguilera comes across as honest, defiant and likeable, his memoir, which closes with his mother's death and Aguilera's departure for the University of Chicago, doesn't ultimately register much personal growth. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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