Summary and book reviews of Monkey Boy by Francisco Goldman

Monkey Boy

by Francisco Goldman

Monkey Boy by Francisco Goldman X
Monkey Boy by Francisco Goldman
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    May 2021, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron
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About this Book

Book Summary

Francisco Goldman's first novel since his acclaimed, nationally bestselling Say Her Name (winner of the Prix Femina étranger), Monkey Boy is a sweeping story about the impact of divided identity - whether Jewish/Catholic, white/brown, native/expat - and one misfit's quest to heal his damaged past and find love.

Our narrator, Francisco Goldberg, an American writer, has been living in Mexico when, because of a threat provoked by his journalism, he flees to New York City, hoping to start afresh. His last relationship ended devastatingly five years before, and he may now finally be on the cusp of a new love with a young Mexican woman he meets in Brooklyn. But Francisco is soon beckoned back to his childhood home outside Boston by a high school girlfriend who witnessed his youthful humiliations, and to visit his Guatemalan mother, Yolanda, whose intermittent lucidity unearths forgotten pockets of the past. On this five-day trip, the specter of Frank's recently deceased father, Bert, an immigrant from Ukraine – pathologically abusive, yet also at times infuriatingly endearing ― as well as the dramatic Guatemalan woman who helped raise him, and the high school bullies who called him "monkey boy," all loom.

Told in an intimate, irresistibly funny, and passionate voice, this extraordinary portrait of family and growing up "halfie," unearths the hidden cruelties in a predominantly white, working-class Boston suburb where Francisco came of age, and explores the pressures of living between worlds all his life. Monkey Boy is a new masterpiece of fiction from one of the most important American voices in the last forty years.

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...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In his writing, Goldman exposes the underbelly of a complex web of brutality, from intimate family violence to the racism and bullying of a working-class Boston suburb, to the global violence of colonial oppression. Yet, as searing and unflinching as the novel is, it is also a work of tenderness and compassion. We fall in love with the characters, as flawed as they are, because Goldman paints them with a shining and necessary humanity...continued

Full Review (782 words).

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(Reviewed by Naomi Benaron).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
[B]y taking us along with him, drawing us so deftly into moments of intimacy and worldliness, brutality and beauty, the author effectively ceases to be an outsider. In Monkey Boy he has crafted his own E pluribus unum, with room enough for stories lived, written or read — and, of course, for the two Franciscos, Goldberg and Goldman.

Publishers Weekly
[C]aptivating...Goldman's direct, intimate writing alone is worth the price of admission.

Library Journal
Fusing elements of creative nonfiction with autoethnography, Francisco Goldman creates the speculative ghost of a parallel life in Francisco Goldberg. Fans of Goldman's bibliography will find much to delight in here.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[Goldman's] immersive, restless narrative style expertly plays the rhythms of thought and remembrance, weaving in his past and current romances, his investigation of and published work on Guatemalan terror, ultimately the quest for a whole made of so many halves: half Jewish, half Catholic, half American, half Guatemalan, half White, half Latino...The warmth and humanity of Goldman's storytelling are impossible to resist.

Booklist (starred review)
Although steeped in trauma and loneliness, prejudice and brutality, secrets and lies, Goldman’s ravishing, multidirectional novel is also iridescent with tenderness, comedic absurdity, sensual infatuation, reclaimed love, the life-sustaining desire to ‘remember every single second,’ and the redemption of getting every element just right.

Author Blurb Susan Choi, National Book Award winning author of Trust Exercise
Francisco Goldman...crafter of the tenderest dirtiest love scenes!?the wisest and spookiest children!?the fathers whose monstrosity breaks our hearts with compassion for them?who else can do all this? Francisco Goldman is uncategorizable, as is this book which made me grow a second heart just to contain all its fierce tenderness. Goldman has been my literary hero from his first entrancing Long Night of White Chickens to this latest take-no-prisoners Monkey Boy. He is a true original, that rarest of writers, the kind we cannot live without.

Author Blurb Valeria Luiselli
From the painful intimate violence in a suburban New England home, to racial cruelty among high school teenagers, to the US government's political and military interventionism in Latin America, Goldman's sweeping gaze runs through multiple circuits of America's violence, showing us how deeply connected they in fact are. With the exact balance of outrage and hope, Monkey Boy takes us on an eye-opening journey, full of tenderness and horror, through the often-ignored layers of this country's history. A powerful, necessary book.

Author Blurb Rivka Galchen
Francisco Goldman, one of our most brilliant political writers, is also, miraculously, a Chekhov of the heart. This novel is wild, funny, and wrenching, as well as a profound act of retrieval and transformation.

Author Blurb Colm Tóibín, author of Brooklyn and Nora Webster
Monkey Boy is written with tenderness and emotional precision. It tells what it means to be an American, to have an identity that is nourished by many sources, including ones that are mysterious and shrouded in secrecy. It is a story of two cities?Boston and Guatemala?and an account of a man's relationship with his mother, who is evoked here in sharp and loving detail. It is a book about how we piece the past together. Goldman bridges the gap between imagination and memory with stunning lyricism and unsparing clarity.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Guatemalan Civil War

Crosses bearing the names of victims of the Guatemalan Civil WarThe narrator of Francisco Goldman's autobiographical novel Monkey Boy, like Goldman himself, was a journalist who reported on the Guatemalan Civil War. The brutal war began in 1960 and lasted a total of 36 years. Over 200,000 were killed or "disappeared," more than 600 villages were attacked or completely destroyed by the army and 150 million people were displaced. Approximately 83 percent of the victims were Indigenous Maya, and 93 percent of human rights violations were carried out by the army and its paramilitary groups. Repercussions from the war still reverberate through the country today, and reconciliation remains elusive.

Background

The seeds of the civil war found fertile ground following the 1954 military coup that toppled ...

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