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One Motherfucker of a Narrative

Author: Robert Birnbaum
Newspaper: Identity Theory
Date: May 6 2017

There is something truly wonderful going on in the pages of The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilonen which I cannot do justice here, but which thankfully Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado does in his lucid explication of this expertly and imaginatively translated by Andrea Rosenberg. Sanchez Prado concludes:

“I could speak more about the formal wonders of both Xilonen and her translator, but the final point to be made is that the arrival of The Gringo Champion to the United States in the early days of the Trump presidency is both timely and political. Xilonen dedicates her novel “[t]o all the world’s migrants, which, if we go back to our origins, is all of us.” The novel can be read as a meaningful attempt to imagine the lived experience of the Mexican migrant to the United States. Behind Xilonen’s baroque sense of humor, Liborio’s story is profoundly tragic. The novel captures the enormous violence of the migrant experience (Liborio is consistently beaten and his body is routinely subject to physical violence inflicted by the police, by boxers, and by others); the perils of racialization (American characters frequently point to Liborio’s purported “ugliness” and his love story is in part marked by the characterization of working-class Mexican bodies as undesirable); and the struggle for class mobility with the imagined possibility of the American dream for subjects barred from first-world privilege. This is the story of a Mexican immigrant who could easily be branded as a criminal and a rapist by the voices of white supremacy. In its verbal richness, its humanity, its loving empathy, and its unapologetic depiction of the everyday violence to which migrants are subject, The Gringo Champion is probably one of the most significant novels in translation published in the United States in recent years. Aura Xilonen is an emergent Mexican voice with many things to tell Americans about their neighbors to the south, and with an uncanny talent to narrate the story of her migrant heritage. Few works, I think, are a better response to anti-Mexican sentiments from a Mexican perspective. It is, as such, one of the must-read novels of 2017 and the exciting debut of a young woman who will, I hope, become one of the leading artists of her generation.”