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...and the earth did not devour him Guided Read

75 Books Challenge for 2018

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Feb 28, 10:12pm Top

2 views of my classroom with the detritus of our work on the novel

Edited: Feb 28, 10:36pm Top

Welcome to the guided read of Tomas Rivera's classic of Mexican-American literature, ...and the earth did not devour him!

(Pace the touchstone and, indeed, the book cover, I prefer to place the title lower, since it is a piece of a sentence from the book. Arrogant, I know.)

With some trepidation, I am volunteering to shepherd a shared read of this work, which I have been reading with my students in East Los Angeles for 8 years or so. I'll share my thoughts on how to approach the book in the next post, and then off we can go.

One thing that I fear, having taught the book for so long, and done so with intentions beyond the purely appreciative, is that my understanding of it may have become both eccentric and sclerotic; accordingly, one thing I look forward to is having that understanding undergo the rigors of conversation with peers who don't have to worry about staying on my good side.

ETA: Rivera photo

Feb 28, 10:50pm Top

I always tell my students that the creator(s) of any extended work give(s) us guidelines at the beginning of the work on how to understand it as we go. Typically, we forget the beginning very quickly and don't benefit from the creator's advice. So, with Rivera, I'd like us to avoid that forgetting and actively interpret from the start - not least because I think Rivera gives us unusually clear guidance.

In the ideal case, we'd post our thoughts on the first chapter immediately after reading it, and do the same with the second --- since those chapters are very short, that probably isn't practical. But I hope that y'all will take the invitation of the extensive white space following those chapters to stop and consider very closely the print that precedes the absences, and later share those thoughts with us. (I'll probably wait to read your comments before I weigh in on a section of the book.)

In the original Arte Press hardcover the chapter "The Lost Year" was on the verso with a blank recto - so 3 paragraphs were followed by 1 1/2 pages of white space. The following unnamed chapter is even shorter, so the following white space was sufficient to indicate room for reflection. My take on the book relies very heavily on that spaciousness and on contrasts, physical and otherwise, between those two chapters.

From there, discussion after every other chapter seems indicated, based on the fact that the book alternates multi-paged, titled chapters with very short, untitled chapters.

Beyond that, I would want to start with only one suggestion: stay alert to the book's ellipses, particularly punctuationally - after all, the first word of the title is "...".

In practical terms, I suppose we put our comments pretty much under spoiler alert, so people can proceed fearlessly at their own pace?

Feb 28, 10:52pm Top

Oy! Social Bozo that I am, I forgot the most important part:

Thanks for joining in!

Feb 28, 11:51pm Top

I just ordered the book from the library system--it will probably arrive at the beginning of next week. The edition I am getting is the middle one in your images at the top. I will try it in Spanish, and then supplement it with the English translation.

Mar 1, 2:13am Top

I have my book and plan to start tomorrow, it being March 1st. : )

On the lookout for ellipses and blank space....

Thanks for doing this!

Mar 1, 11:29am Top

I have the first image on my copy. Alas, my Spanish isn't nearly good enough to start in that language, but I will try to refer to it as I go.

Mar 1, 1:24pm Top

>3 majleavy:

Still new to many LT procedures, like how to set a Spoiler?

Tambien, are you alerting people on other threads in case they miss this one?

Mar 1, 3:20pm Top

>8 m.belljackson:

I'm struggling to find a way to explain without it turning into a spoiler alert! I'll try again, later. my students are pouring in

Mar 1, 4:52pm Top

I've got some books ahead of it, so I'll be joining a little later on in the month. Thanks again for doing this, Michael.

Edited: Mar 2, 10:59am Top

How to do a spoiler text

To hide something in a spoiler use the "less than" sign pointing left

Type the word "spoiler" (without the quotation marks)

Then type the "greater than" sign pointing right

Now type whatever comments you want to make.

To end what's hidden in the spoiler, do the exact same thing but add a backslash and type "/spoiler" (again no quotation marks) inside the less than and greater than signs.

spoilerwrite whatever comments you want/spoiler

Hope that helps!!

Mar 1, 5:40pm Top

>5 ronincats: I think that the blue cover is the only version currently in print - of all of them I think it has the most perceptively designed cover.

>6 Berly: & >10 jnwelch: You're both welcome! Glad that you'll be on board, Joe.

>7 ffortsa: If you can manage the Spanish at all, Judy, you're doing better than me: I've got about 20 words of Spanish, and most of them I'd have to spell with asterisks.

>8 m.belljackson: Thanks, to Kim, you have an answer. (>11 Berly: Thanks, Kim.)

Mar 1, 5:42pm Top

Hola! (That's most of the Spanish I know. )

I have dutifully and shamelessly promoted this thread on Crazy, Mark's and Paul's thread. : )

Mar 1, 6:57pm Top

Thread's on the group wiki now for ease of locating it.

Edited: Mar 3, 9:31pm Top

>11 Berly:

I'll try it here to make sure it's correct: Missing sentence is on page 7.

Thanks for your help!

Mar 2, 9:54am Top

>15 m.belljackson: It worked, though you have a bracket reversed in the close spoiler slot.

>14 drneutron: Thank you, Jim.

Mar 2, 1:42pm Top

>16 majleavy:

Odd that it worked anyway.

The spoiler message wasn't really one in case it didn't work.

Here's the real information:

On page 7, paragraph 2, of the E.V-P translation, copyright 1993,
there's this sentence: Pero sabia que el era a quien llamaban.

(Spellcheck had a field day with that one.)

It does not come up in the translated page 83.
The translator also often breaks up long sentences into new ones.

Hope this helps.

Mar 2, 3:28pm Top

This book is unfortunately completely unavailable in any Dutch library. I tried to look it up in WorldCat, but it seems the closest library that has it is in Berkeley, and that is a bit out of range;-)
I would have liked to participate, but maybe next time?
Anyway, I like the idea, your classroom looks wonderful, and I will have a peak round the door every once and a while.

Mar 2, 5:28pm Top

>18 EllaTim: Sorry to hear that it's not available there - would have been great to have you join in. Next time for sure (if there is a next time). And you're always welcome to peak in.

Mar 3, 10:59am Top

>19 majleavy:
Interesting. I'm going to skip that for now - seems like we should enter the book without anyone else's reading clouding our thoughts.

Mar 3, 12:37pm Top

Hooray! My library has a copy. It's not clear from the online entry whether it's the English or Spanish version or, if English, who the translator is. I'll stop by and scope it out as soon as possible.

Mar 3, 12:58pm Top

Cool, Janet!

Mar 3, 4:46pm Top

>20 ronincats:

I will also save the article for later reading, but found a great coincidence
after clicking on the title:
the header is that same quote that was Lost in Translation!

(see post #17)

Mar 7, 8:24am Top

Quiet for a while... anyone able to start reading yet?

Mar 7, 4:41pm Top

Picked up my copy at the library yesterday and read the first two segments yesterday in both Spanish and English. Other than my complete loss of appreciation of verb tenses in Spanish, it was pretty straightforward and I enjoyed it. But I will have to concentrate when reading it. And my actual copy turns out to be the first of your covers in >1 majleavy: rather than the middle one.

Mar 7, 5:43pm Top

>25 majleavy:

I've heard people still planning to join in here on other Threads who may want to learn what is our first assignment...?

And, will you ask questions or do we just jump in with our first responses or ???

Some leaders have guided discussions while others just wait until everyone's finished the book for reactions.

Mar 7, 9:49pm Top

>26 ronincats: The yellow hardcover is actually my preferred edition, Roni - the spacing is more in line with what I imagine Rivera's intentions to be. There is some difference in pagination, though, for what that's worth.

>27 m.belljackson: Marianne, my initial suggestions for organizing are back in >3 majleavy: If possible, post comments on the first chapter and then the second, and then every two chapters thereafter - I think there is much to be gained by approaching the initial chapters with exaggerated attention.

Otherwise, pay attention to the ellipses...

(I'll certainly ask questions once others comment, but I'd rather not tilt people's approaches in advance. I don't even do that with my students, much less my peers.)

(Still, here's a starting query for "The Lost Year," if anyone prefers one: what effect does/should the first chapter have on our expectations for the rest of the book?
(And one for "What his mother never knew": Do you believe that his mother never knew that boy was drinking the water?

Edited: Mar 8, 12:33pm Top

>28 majleavy:

Thanks for the reminder to check above - it's been awhile so I'd forgotten.

My first thoughts with El ano perdido were that he either has a vivid imagination
or he wants desperately to forget, to bury what has happened to him.

The dream sequence is still confusing:
if he awakens, how can he realize that he is still asleep?

If the lost year comes to him only in dreams, does that make it more or less real to him?

Mar 8, 11:41am Top

>29 m.belljackson: "The dream sequence is still confusing:
if he awakens, how can he realize that he is still asleep?"

well, precisely so - the chapter comes close to contradicting itself with every line. What do you make of the business of him being called: from hearing his name, not finding anyone calling, not knowing what they called him, then realizing he'd called himself?

Mar 8, 12:42pm Top

>30 majleavy:

The calling was my next question, yet I remember talking (out loud?)
to myself at the end of one very real dream.

So, while strange, still possible IF it all happens while he sleeps...
this writing is intriguing once I eliminate in my mind the story ending
that I refused to accept from my fourth grade students:

"And then he/she woke up and found it was all a dream."

This afforded an easy introduction to cliches.

Mar 8, 11:12pm Top

>31 m.belljackson: Well, I had exactly that response: don't tell me this is all going to be a dream! But the second chapter - which shaped/s my reading from there on relieved me. The uncertainty about who knew in that chapter what told me that we were dealing with an unreliable narrator, or somesuch, and not an escape route.

Edited: Mar 10, 2:09pm Top

>33 ffortsa: The concept of an unreliable narrator struck me from the beginning, not because I thought the narrator was trying to confuse us, but because he was confused himself, and the first chapter portrayed that confusion.

I'm interested in other posts on these first two chapters. So I'll stop here for a while.

Mar 10, 2:17pm Top

To me the first chapter seemed like one of those nightmares from which you can't wake.

And the second chapter was very touching. Did the Mom believe in the spirits? To me, it doesn't really matter. It was as if the Mom was saying, 'Son, I can't protect you out in the world, but I can do this." And the son saw it and acknowledged his Mom's concern by playing along.

Mar 10, 4:41pm Top

What his mother never knew..."

or did she?

If his mother knew that he drank the water "a los espiritus"
AND she was super devout, which we do not know at this point,
she might well be furious and believe that he was tempting Satan.

If she did know (which makes sense given how very lightly mothers
have learned to sleep) and this was not a test of her faith,
then her intent can only be guessed: to give him faith? courage? strength? power? or?

At this point, I trust him to tell what he believes is true when he is awake.

Mar 11, 10:55am Top

The Children Couldn't Wait Obscene. Absolutely obscene.

"Why doesn't this one let us bring water?" He's one of those corrupted by his power over those without any power. He probably treated his animals and his family (if he ever had one) the same way.

He didn't see the workers as human .... until after the child was dead. Then, although his own conscience condemned him, society didn't convict him. The jury of his peers considered it was an accident.

I live in ranch country. Some of my neighbors, especially during calving, will take a shot to scare off a stray dog and accidentally kill it instead. Oh well. It wouldn't have happened if the dog was where it belonged.

But afterward, the old man understood what he had done, even if his peers didn't.

Next chapter;

Again, complete lack of power. If you can't trust the government, who do you turn to? 'lost in action' - does that mean missing in action or killed in action? If you can't contact the authorities, your options are limited.

Mar 11, 1:18pm Top

concerning the first two chapters:
>33 ffortsa: My sense as well, Judy, that the narrator is confused, "lost." Still - can we trust anything that follows?

>34 streamsong: very interesting remark, Janet, about the mother being unable to protect her son out in the world - see a pattern forming as you go deeper into the book?

>35 m.belljackson: Hang on to that "tempting Satan" thought, Marianne! Like Like Judy and Janet, you've latched onto something that is (or at least, might be) important to the overall structure/meaning of the novel.

A question: three issues proposed: a confused male, a parent who can't protect a child, tempting Satan. Are these separate readings unfolding, are do they connect?

And one more, more leading, question: I think it matters terribly that the word "water" is repeated twice in two sentences. Is that over-analytical? I'd like some of your thoughts, before I explain why I think it does matter.

Mar 11, 1:24pm Top

concerning "The Children Couldn't Wait":
>36 streamsong: Obscene, indeed. One thing I discuss more than once in the year with my students is how those in charge underestimate the demands they place on those they supervise (or boss, or exploit...). I saw that in myself in my days as a manager: you get occasional glimpses of what the workers are up to - and, lo!, they aren't working as hard as they could be! Never taking into account the need to pace oneself over a full shift.

RE: shooting: the ol' blame the victim trick.

Mar 11, 1:27pm Top

through "Comadre, do you all plan to go to Utah?"

Comic relief, seemingly, or at least relief after three chapters of one or more dead sons. What's it doing here? I'll admit that I see it in some ways as particularly parallel to "What his mother never knew..."

Mar 11, 3:12pm Top

The Lost Year: I got a sense of profound disorientation, perhaps even a psychotic break. And all these disjointed images running through his mind.

About the water, my first thought was the purely pragmatic one of a nightly ritual that also kept the son from getting up and asking for water. Now I begin to think that the mother's intent to protect her son is there.

The Children Couldn't Wait: Definitely obscene. Not only the owner's anger about the time lost to drink water but also the young children working in the heat during April, which means they aren't in school (as nowadays they would be required to be--we had migratory workers' children in and out of my school system (10 miles north of the border) throughout my years there, even though we were an urban district) But I wonder if the children's comparison to conditions up north being better has any significance. And I agree--at least the man recognized the horror of what he had done, which others might not have done, as seen in the reaction of his peers.

The Seance: I'm thinking the timing is during the Vietnam war? Is the medium taking advantage of the mother? Is this part of espiritu?

And finally--how on earth did they make a movie of this? My edition has photos--stills from the movie.

Mar 11, 3:51pm Top

>37 majleavy:

Re: Water

Your lead question and the repetition, which had not stood out before,
feels like foreshadowing, with water maybe becoming as critical to the plot as la tierra.

Not sure about connections between our young boy/man, his Mother, and the devil -
we already know that his Lost Year gave him no protection from his waking nightmares,
yet do not yet know if his Mother's or a God's protection would have helped.

Ellipses so far have led to the action of the second chapter,
but are a mystery as a lead-in to the title since we do not know what happened
before the earth tried to devour (swallow? engulf?) him.

Devour feels way more terrifying than other translations.

Mar 11, 5:56pm Top

>40 ronincats: Hi, Roni. I've never attempted to see the film - looks like they turned all or part of ...atedndh into the story of one family, which is a travesty. Sort of what happened to World War Z.

Korean War is the era, as it turns out.

RE: "What his mother..." I always have a cadre of students that believe that the water is intended for him, because he's dead. For them, the confusion of "The Lost Year" is that of a ghost who hasn't caught on, yet.

We've got spiritualists and mediums all over East LA, and I've never figured out how many believe that they're legit and how many are con artists.

My students love the spiritualist in the 4th chapter - more than a few assume that she's legit. Relatedly, up until I showed "Detroit" this year, the film that was always the most popular in my film class was "Ghost," not least because of the role of a spiritualist in it.

Mar 11, 6:05pm Top

>41 m.belljackson: on the glass of water

If I recall correctly I jumped all over that image when I first hit it - after the uncertainties of Lost Year and then more uncertainty at the start of the second chapter, something as concrete as a glass of water was like, well, a glass of water in the face.

So my thinking at that point was that the contrast signified something I had to be on the lookout for: water, containers of water, maybe just concrete images... or maybe it was things drunk, kept secret, or hidden under beds... In the event, the next chapter clarified my search considerably; then chapter 7 threw me for a loop.

Edited: Mar 11, 7:46pm Top

>43 majleavy:

And, the Spanish title for Chapter 3 holds the word "aqua" = aguantaron.
That stayed with me.

How strange when the intent was not to kill, but to scare, to force his selfish greed
by controlling the behavior of a child.

There's no mention, as there would be today, of race as a main reason for depriving people of water,
for treating them less than the animals, just that the boss is "no good."

"...like a dirty rag..." alone could have caused a lost year.

Chapter 4 - The echo of "lost year" in "lost in action" raises questions -
is the narrator the one lost in action while the events he has described so far are from the life he left to go to war?

Is he dead or alive? Lost year, Lost child, and now, Lost son?

Given the loss of hope up to this point, readers may well want to believe in sleeping woman's powers.

Mar 12, 10:45am Top

Back to Chapter 1 for those who are also trying to translate from Spanish:

"Pero sabia que el era a quien llamaban."- appears at the end of the 2nd paragraph,

but is missing in the English translation.

The online translation is:"But I knew that he was the one they called."

IF this is a correct translation, "I" seems unusual.

Mar 13, 10:26am Top

>44 m.belljackson: "aguantaron" Thank you for that - I'd never noticed. Helps justify my emphasis at this point of water over la tierra.

>45 m.belljackson: "I"?! Hard to fathom that pronoun popping up here.

>44 m.belljackson: Lost and lost, yeah. At this point, it is tempting to try to organize all of the narrative into one life.

The murdered child hits hard, and complicates the issue of one story: that child certainly won't grow up to be lost in Korea. Is he a sibling? A primo?

I'm also interested in "and the water began to turn bloody" which authorizes us, I think, to extend the water imagery to blood, and the very bloody "A Prayer" reinforces that - not to mention her tears and her breastmilk, maybe the faux urination and the inferable perspiration of "The Children..." (my students always pump for the latter, though I insist to them that we stick with the explicit references at this point in the process)... all of this suggests that that initial glass of water is at the root of all bodily fluids.

But with what connection to the dead and the spirit world, and what connection to the earth?

Edited: Mar 13, 12:58pm Top

>46 majleavy:

I double-checked the "sabia" translation online and it is "I knew." My own translation would have been "he knew."

If you can find an English translation other than the E.V-P one we have,
AND one that does include the sentence that she has left out,
it would be welcome knowledge.

IF it actually is "I knew," that definitely would give a different perspective!

Slowing down - if the murdered child was a relative, Iuta would be an even odder juxtaposition
(The Great Salt Lake, canyons, deserts, Mormons, Mormons and Mexicans! and what crops grow there?!).

Readers would expect reactions of horror from the Mother,
rather than a spiritualist consultation and prayers for her lost son in Korea.

The sole connection to the dead for me was that her descriptive heart pleas
inspired visions of those gruesome paintings of Jesus holding (?) his heart outside of his body.

I'm looking forward to the connections that you and other readers make.

Mar 15, 3:04pm Top

>47 m.belljackson: "The sole connection to the dead for me was that her descriptive heart pleas
inspired visions of those gruesome paintings of Jesus holding (?) his heart outside of his body."
Sacred Heart of Jesus, yes; tho' I always wonder if we should hear a bit of Aztec tradition there.

I'm thinking, re: death, of the accumulation" spirits in the second chapter, murder in the third, talking to spirits in the fourth...then Utah? An ill-fit, as you say"

Yeah, where is everyone else?

Yesterday, 10:25am Top

I have temporarily fallen off the LT bandwagon, duet RL interference, but I am back and will get some reading time this weekend! Thanks for using the spoilers. : )

Yesterday, 1:41pm Top

De nada. Glad you're back. No more food allergy issues?

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2018

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