Building a bridge to love: A review of Randy Lopez Goes Home

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Randy Lopez Goes Home: A Novel
Rudolfo Anaya
168 pages, hardcover: $19.95.
University of Oklahoma Press, 2011.

No one in the village of Agua Bendita, N.M., remembers Randy Lopez when he returns -- not even his own godparents. Did he stay away too long, seeking wisdom among the gringos? Has he lost his identity? Is Sofia, his true love, still waiting for him? These questions, and a swarm of others, trouble the protagonist of Randy Lopez Goes Home, an allegorical novel by Rudolfo Anaya, who is often described as "the godfather of Chicano literature."

On the Day of the Dead, Randy returns, riding an old swaybacked horse into the village. He meets a parade of characters, including Lilith, Death, and the Devil, who offer him advice and distraction. Unica, an old medicine woman, tells him there are "galaxies of souls out there, all being recycled," and says that the "purpose of living (is) to expand the soul." The old Catholic priest from Randy's childhood church tells him, "Time is like a worm. It eats everything." Several alluring women try to tempt him, but Randy refuses to give up his dream of re-uniting with Sofia, although he wonders if she, too, has forgotten him. And he can't find out -- because Sofia lives on the other side of a torrential river that has no bridge across it.

Eventually, Randy encounters his old first-grade teacher, Miss Libriana, who gives him a helpful book entitled How to Build a Bridge. The villagers think he is crazy to try to build a bridge across the wild river. "The gringos in the cantina agreed. A Mexican boy could never build a bridge. Hadn't he failed high school? Didn't get his diploma. Still had a noticeable accent when he spoke English. Would never get ahead." But while they sit and drink beer, Randy works, cutting trees with a band of migrant workers who have agreed to help him build the bridge.

Randy Lopez may be Chicano, but his yearning for community, recognition and love are universal. Anaya manages to weave large and complex issues like wisdom, spirituality and the clash of cultures into a simple story -- one that celebrates creative imagination, a sense of purpose, and the blessings of life.

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