The Alphabet in My Hands: A Writing Life

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9780813527048: The Alphabet in My Hands: A Writing Life

Marjorie Agosín writes of a beloved childhood nanny: "Since I was Jewish she baptized me with holy water brought forth from the fonts of nearby churches. She told me to stay very still so I wouldn't sprout horns. . . . I was somewhere between taciturn and happy gazing into the mirror as if approaching the edge of a cliff . . . and I watched myself in the deep, transparent veil of this night of all nights." Many of the themes expressed in this vignette—cultural dissonance, family, and community—are poetically intertwined throughout The Alphabet in My Hands. Agosín takes us on a personal journey of discovery that is as much internal reflection as an exodus across continents and decades.

Agosín's childhood and early adolescence were spent with her Jewish family in Chile. While her family raised her to regard her Jewish heritage with loving awareness, they also participated in the dominant Catholic culture—an aunt organized Easter egg hunts and her mother admired the beauty of Chile's Catholic churches. The young Agosín became keenly aware of her dual identity in her country, both as a participant and an outsider.

The second half of The Alphabet in My Hands recounts the events that forced her family to emigrate to America: the overthrow of Salvador Allende by General Augusto Pinochet. Agosín writes of her new life in Athens, Georgia, of the sudden loss of all that was familiar. Ostracized as an emigrant—a "non-white" with a strange foreign accent—her high school years were made even more painful by the news from Chile: prisoners taken and classmates disappearing or shot.

Years later, Agosín goes back to Chile and she travels there with her own children. As she stares down at her old homeland from the plane, she writes: "Why do I love this place that forced us into exile, that punished my father for being a Jew?" And in the final chapter of The Alphabet in My Hands, this award-winning poet addresses two important topics: her current residence in New England and the central role of writing and literature in her life.

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About the Author:

MARJORIE AGOSÍN recently was honored with a United Nations Leadership Award for Human Rights. A professor of Spanish at Wellesley College, she has written many books of poetry and fiction. Her latest book is A Map of Hope: Women's Writing on Human Rights (Rutgers University Press).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Rabbit Easter

My aunt Liesl Goldschmid was born in Austria but was raised as an only child in London while her parents hid in the woods of Vienna. Like Agatha of Austria, she had the invincible custom of celebrating, year after year, the feast of the Rabbits. She said that Resurrection Sunday was a day for remembering those who were in hiding during the most treacherous years. Very serious, she would create paths through the woods of the house next door, and sing Spanish songs while we hid multicolored eggs, painted lilac and mauve. In Chile, this was considered an act of bad faith, like the procession of heretics over the earth. Easter in Chile was subdued, and widows donned their most severe mourning clothes. That strange scene of Jewish children and their parents looking for eggs was not proper. But for us, the eggs hidden deep in the damp forest, and the sacred cheeks of those children were like a beginning, the birth of innocence, of memory. We like to hear my aunt proclaim "oh too much love," as she unpacked her wedding dress and danced in the transparent space of night and sea while we looked for eggs and buried our hands in the warm April earth, preparing ourselves for the southern hemisphere. We were happy because the previous week we had celebrated Passover as the maids watched us with surprise singing and repeating the questions of the night. Perhaps that was what it meant to be Jewish, to suffer the breath of God in the back of our necks while we prayed and to feel our hands buried in the soil while we looked for rabbits steeped in the wisdom of the earth.

St. John's Eve

My nana Carmen Carrasco was faithful observer of all manner of feast days, from the grape harvests on sweet and drowsy summer nights to the eve of St. John, her personal favorite. Carmen loved to dress in white so as to scare off Death and all her mischief making. At midnight, the hour of owls and rivers-even though the one behind my house was merely a brook-Carmen went outside to beat the trees. She beat them in a marvelous frenzy, with all the fury of generations, with all the power of her womanhood. I watched her fervently wished to be grown up solely to beat trees, knowing full well that Jewish girls could never do so. We had no saint day's eves, no St. John.

On the nights she beat the trees, when her hair puffed up like a could of smoke, Carmen Carrasco took me to her room, yes, the room in the back, and told me the hour of my salvation had arrived. Since I was Jewish she baptized me with holy water brought from the fonts of nearby churches. She told me to stay very still so I wouldn't sprout horns. Only then did she tell me to look in the wide, concave mirror that would reveal a shift in my fortune. I was somewhere between subdued and happy, gazing into the mirror as if approaching the edge of a cliff, the cloudy ages of lost rituals, and I watched myself in the deep, transparent veil of this night of all nights. In the mirror, Carmen Carrasco saw the sinuous procession of the living and the dead, the stars of the most sublime galaxies. Carmen Carrasco assured me that the mirror told the truth. She whispered supplications, sweet prayers very close to my ear. She told that she, too, was a Jewish woman, because, after all, the Spaniards were Jewish, and that, in order to survive, she had loved life above all else. This is how I spent my nights, my St. John eves, during winters in the southern hemisphere, when frost covered the fields of both rich and poor, when winter seemed like a great lady snug in her carriage of ice.

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Book Description Rutgers University Press, United States, 2000. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Marjorie Agosin writes of a beloved childhood nanny: Since I was Jewish she baptized me with holy water brought forth from the fonts of nearby churches. She told me to stay very still so I wouldn t sprout horns. . . . I was somewhere between taciturn and happy gazing into the mirror as if approaching the edge of a cliff . . . and I watched myself in the deep, transparent veil of this night of all nights. Many of the themes expressed in this vignette--cultural dissonance, family, and community--are poetically intertwined throughout The Alphabet in My Hands. Agosin takes us on a personal journey of discovery that is as much internal reflection as an exodus across continents and decades. Agosin s childhood and early adolescence were spent with her Jewish family in Chile. While her family raised her to regard her Jewish heritage with loving awareness, they also participated in the dominant Catholic culture--an aunt organized Easter egg hunts and her mother admired the beauty of Chile s Catholic churches. The young Agosin became keenly aware of her dual identity in her country, both as a participant and an outsider. The second half of The Alphabet in My Hands recounts the events that forced her family to emigrate to America: the overthrow of Salvador Allende by General Augusto Pinochet. Agosin writes of her new life in Athens, Georgia, of the sudden loss of all that was familiar. Ostracized as an emigrant--a non-white with a strange foreign accent--her high school years were made even more painful by the news from Chile: prisoners taken and classmates disappearing or shot. Years later, Agosin goes back to Chile and she travels there with her own children. As she stares down at her old homeland from the plane, she writes: Why do I love this place that forced us into exile, that punished my father for being a Jew? And in the final chapter of The Alphabet in My Hands, this award-winning poet addresses two important topics: her current residence in New England and the central role of writing and literature in her life. Bookseller Inventory # FLT9780813527048

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