Excerpt from Monkey Boy by Francisco Goldman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Monkey Boy

by Francisco Goldman

Monkey Boy by Francisco Goldman X
Monkey Boy by Francisco Goldman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    May 2021, 336 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Excerpt
Monkey Boy

All my life, I've been answering some version of the inevitable question: But aren't you Jewish? (Weren't you just introduced to me as Frank Goldberg? Then what do you mean that you were baptized in that church?) I'm half-Jewish, I've always answered. Usually adding: My mother is Catholic. (I'm half-Jewish and half-Catholic I'm sure I used to say as a boy.) Those questions always felt threatening to me; to some degree, they still do. When I answered like I did, did people think I was saying that I was or wasn't Jewish? That's what I'm thinking about, sitting here in this sleek hipster pub that I stopped into after saying goodbye to María and Rebeca at the laundromat and walking around the neighborhood a bit, fuming about Father Blackett, Lexi's arrowhead in my pocket.

When I was a kid, I never would have dared to say out loud: I want to be just one thing, like a normal person is, though I thought it all the time. Having a mother from Guatemala is weird enough, but at least she's Catholic. I'd rather be Catholic because that's more normal. I did know there was some sort of rabbinical law that if the mother isn't Jewish then her children aren't either, but it wasn't a law I ever saw enforced in any way, or that anyone else seemed to know or care about. As a child I did ask my mother to let me go to Sunday School at St. Joe's. But Bert said, Yoli, they'll slaughter him. He can't defend himself against one Gary Sacco, what's going to happen when every goddamned kid is Gary Sacco? Instead, I was put into after-school Hebrew classes. I don't know how Bert didn't foresee what a disaster that was going to be. When two weeks later I just stopped going, not a mote of dust was stirred by query or protest from any quarter.

I want to be nothing. Why can't I just be nothing? What if I'd said that. But what can a fourteen-year-old really know about being nothing?

Nada us our nada as we nada our nadas. But there's no Nada IPA on the menu, so I tentatively order the Spaceman IPA. The waitress, tall and trim in all black, reassures me that I've made a good choice. I order a grilled fontina and guanciale sandwich, too. She brings the beer, and I silently toast and drink to nada.

Up to fifth grade, Mamita always took us back to Guatemala City for the summers, and even though they were supposed to be our vacation months, we were always put in schools. For a few of those summers I was enrolled in the Colegio Ann Hunt. Ann Hunt was an expat from Alabama, and her husband, Scobie, owned travel agencies and tourist hotels. It was at the Colegio Ann Hunt that I encountered for the first time, in the school library, the phenomena of strictly classifying writers by ethnicity and race. The shelves labeled "American" held books by writers from Alcott to Wolfe. The bottom shelves, inches above the floor, of two adjoining bookcases were labeled "Negro," Baldwin to Wright, and "Jewish," Bellow to Wouk, the lower parts of those book spines scuzzy with the dust of broom sweepings. Latino/Latina, or Hispanic, or however Ann Hunt might have labeled it, weren't on her map yet, and neither were Asian, Native American, etcetera. But now I know that Ann Hunt was a pioneer of the American multicultural book business, however inadvertently. She should have gotten a medal.

"In a hyper capitalist society like this one, this commodification of ethnicity and race is both inevitable and good business, much better than just dispersing these writers like multi-colored sprinkles into our more established commercial batters, but you do have to be clear about what you're selling. Somebody buying a novel in our coveted Guatemalan- American niche doesn't want to be surprised to find a bunch of Jews and half-Jews in there." I didn't foresee, when I published my first short stories, how easy I could have made things for myself by publishing under my mother's maiden name, Montejo, as other writers in situations the same as mine have done. Then I thought that as I'd already published under Goldberg, altering it would be shameful, as if admitting it bothered me to be thought of as only Jewish. I was jealous of Jewish writers and half Jews whose last names didn't sound Jewish, all those Millers and Bakers, Mailer, Salinger, and Proust. Or writers who simply changed their name and paid no price in shame or ridicule, James Horowitz to James Salter, who said he hadn't wanted to be typecast as "another Jewish writer from New York." Could it really be possible that Frank Gehry would have had fewer important architectural commissions if he'd kept his name, Frank Goldberg?

Excerpted from Monkey Boy © 2021 by Francisco Goldman. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Guatemalan Civil War

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Debt Trap
    The Debt Trap
    by Josh Mitchell
    The Debt Trap by Josh Mitchell opens up the dialogue for meaningful conversations about a problem ...
  • Book Jacket: Razorblade Tears
    Razorblade Tears
    by S. A. Cosby
    Razorblade Tears, a thriller by S.A. Cosby, follows a pair of ex-convicts who team up to avenge the ...
  • Book Jacket: Once There Were Wolves
    Once There Were Wolves
    by Charlotte McConaghy
    In Charlotte McConaghy's second novel after her debut Migrations, environmental biologist Inti Flynn...
  • Book Jacket: The Secret Keeper of Jaipur
    The Secret Keeper of Jaipur
    by Alka Joshi
    Alka Joshi's The Secret Keeper of Jaipur is the sequel to her 2020 bestseller The Henna Artist and ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
In Every Mirror She's Black
by Lola Akinmade Akerstrom
An arresting debut for anyone looking for insight into what it means to be a Black woman in the world.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Blind Man's Bluff
    by James Tate Hill

    A writer's humorous and often-heartbreaking tale of losing his sight—and how he hid it from the world.

  • Book Jacket

    Never Saw Me Coming
    by Vera Kurian

    "Fun, entertaining and hard to put down."
    The New York Journal of Books

Who Said...

Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Pull Y U B T B

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.