The Town of Babylon
by Alejandro Varela
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Pub Date 22 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 08 Mar 2022
Astra Publishing House, Astra House
*Recommended by The New York Times*
"An incandescent bildungsroman." —Publisher's Weekly, Starred Review
"Haunting, sublime, solemn, and true." —Robert Jones Jr., author of The Prophets
"[An] intense, astute meditation on race, family, class, love, and friendship." —Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
In this contemporary debut novel—an intimate portrait of queer, racial, and class identity —Andrés, a gay Latinx professor, returns to his suburban hometown in the wake of his husband’s infidelity. There he finds himself with no excuse not to attend his twenty-year high school reunion, and hesitantly begins to reconnect with people he used to call friends.
Over the next few weeks, while caring for his aging parents and navigating the neighborhood where he grew up, Andrés falls into old habits with friends he thought he’d left behind. Before long, he unexpectedly becomes entangled with his first love and is forced to tend to past wounds.
Captivating and poignant; a modern coming-of-age story about the essential nature of community, The Town of Babylon is a page-turning novel about young love and a close examination of our social systems and the toll they take when they fail us.
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Average rating from 8 members
READ THIS BOOK!!!!
Thank you at @netgalley and @astrahouse for my gifted e-arc of this book. I have to start off by saying that this book deserves all the stars! I LOVED it. I don't read much Contemporary Fiction, but I learned that the author was Salvadoran so I had to read it!
We meet Andres who's gone back to his hometown because his dad is sick. Andres wants to help his mom take care of him. While there he decides to attend his high school 20 year reunion. He reunites with his first love Jeremy and his other friends.
The characters in this book were such a highlight to me. They felt so real and even with their flaws. My favorite were Andres parents. They reminded me so much of my parents being immigrants in the US. I loved the writing in this book. I highlighted so many quotes. Alejandro Varela really has a beautiful way with words.
This book deserves so much more hype!
For many, going home forces people to revisit their past. They are reconnected with family and friends, reminded of moments of trauma and joy, and are acutely aware of how they, the people in their hometown, and the larger community around them have changed since they last visited. Varela's debut explores the unlimited elements at play when the main character, a queer latinx man named Andrés, returns home for a class reunion. A moving story about navigating community and healing from painful pasts.
Absolutely brilliant, one of the best queer contemporaries I've read in ages. Funny and smart and full of so many ordinary moments, so perfectly described. It's a book about a suburban town and all the people who call it home, but it never strays too far from the emotional journey of its protagonist. Sublime.
This is a debut novel.
I wanted to get that out there now, because while it's not perfect...it was going to be a three-and-a-half-star read until a certain point...it's got the extra insight and clarity to lift the read to the next level. A polyphonic novel that travels back and forth between the 1990s, when Andrés left Babylon, and now, when his return is less an actual return than a retreat from the mess in his present-day life enabled by his sudden discovery that his mother needs help caring for his gravely ill father.
Andrés is a first-generation American, his parents immigrants whose relationship to the USA is fraught with the usual complexities and exacerbated by their closeted-but-clearly-queer son. His unhappiness, his entire life being spent trying to hide and not to call attention to himself, impacted them...but we're not really, despite the set-up, here for them. And that would've made things a lot more agreeable to me had we been let into that experience...but that isn't Andrés's story to tell. So, no sense blaming the story for not delivering something it didn't promise me.
As Andrés spends time with the awful US health-care system, he also decides whether his marital issues might be contextualized by a trip to his twentieth high-school reunion. (I've never been to a high-school reunion...leaving that place was a joy, going back seems perverse.) It's here that I begin to think, "oh boy, here we go down Bad-Memory Lane" and I was vindicated. A homophobe that Andrés strongly suspects was involved in an act of lethal anti-gay violence? A preacher now! His first love? Married with children! <I>Tick, tick, tick</i> as the expected dominoes fall. What saves the story is the anti-capitalist anger of it:
<blockquote>The suburbs are where people go to preserve their ignorance, in service of a delusion they've mistaken for a dream. They tired of the more interesting human experiment and fled. Cowards, the lot. Working class, middle class, and one-percenters alike.
There are places in this world where people worry less intensely and with less frequency. Places where the hierarchy isn't stretched tall and people aren't perched high above their loved ones. Egalitarian places, where families don't have to be self-contained battalions constantly defending against their neighbors and other strangers. But not here.</blockquote>
I completely concur. I, in fact, would go far more into the area...which is why we're reading Author Varela's book, not mine. It's a very interesting story for the middle-aged multitudes, this review of the past to come to some peace with the present. But honestly, I'm past middle age and I was getting more than a little antsy with a storytelling technique that I myownself feel works best in stories about younger people, eg <a href="https://expendablemudge.blogspot.com/2021/11/the-prophets-debut-novel-nominated-for.html" target="_blank"><I>The Prophets</i></a>
Then I read this:
<blockquote>Going home makes it impossible to forget the past, but it also ushers the past into the present, reconstructing it, making it easier to face.</blockquote>
And the view snapped into focus, I added that half-star back, and am recommending the read to you whole-heartedly.
I can’t stop raving about this book! It is one of my favorite books read this year and officially part of my all-time favorite books. The book flowed so beautifully, the characters were so damn human, and I loved the public health perspective that Varela adds.
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