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'Monkey Boy': The cruelty behind a nickname

Francisco Goldman, of Guatemalan and Russian origins, offers an autobiographical account of the challenge of growing up between two worlds.

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In 2012 Francisco Goldman published Say Her Name, an autobiographical story in which he narrated the pain of the death of his spouse, Ada, swept away by a wave while swimming on a beach in Mexico. Ten years later, the renowned writer of Russian Jewish and Guatemalan origin returns to the autobiographical genre to publish Monkey Boy, where he introduces readers to Francisco Goldberg, a middle-aged writer facing the challenges of family and love, the legacies of violence and war, and growing up as the son of immigrants — a Guatemalan Catholic mother and a Russian Jewish father — in a predominantly white, working-class suburb of Boston.

A finalist for a 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, Monkey Boy paints in funny, tender and passionate prose a portrait of a family caught between two worlds. The novel, first published in English, is now available in Spanish from Almadía

The novel begins with an anecdote that Goldman experienced at the age of 13, during his first year of high school, when he dared to kiss the girl he liked at a school party. The following Monday, he found himself being laughed at by fellow classmates. The girl had said that during the kiss she had felt like a banana being chewed by an ape, hence the nickname 'Monkey Boy.'

The book also delves into Goldman's disparate relationship with his parents.

"I wanted to explore my roots and I thought that to understand who I was I had to explore the relationship with my father," said the author in a recent interview with El País. "I thought that my whole life had consisted of running away from him, that's why I escaped from the United States, immersing myself in Latin America during the Central American wars, living in Mexico, marrying only Mexican women, that everything was about being the opposite of my father; but with the book I discovered that I wasn't running away from him, but that I was walking the path to my mother, that I returned to her world, I returned to my mother's nest."

According to Almadía, Goldman has written a brilliant reflection and a clear x-ray of the individual and collective identity of a country that, like many, is inhabited by people of multiple geographic and cultural origins.

"But above all, this book is a celebration of female fortitude, without which navigating the most turbulent childhoods would be virtually impossible," it said. 

Goldman, who is fluent in Spanish, has taught at Columbia University, in its MFA program; and has been published in The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Harper's and many other publications. He has published five novels and two nonfiction books. He lives between Brooklyn and Mexico City.

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