When Rennie’s parents die in a freak accident, he does what they would have wanted and buries them in Puerto Rico, their homeland. There, he’s shocked to discover that the woman who raised him was not his biological mother. A high-powered attorney, his birth mother Julia is determined to reclaim the son she gave up many years before. This is The Accidental Native by J.L. Torres.
Adrift, with no family in New York and haunted by memories, Rennie is swayed by Julia’s constant pleading that he move to the island. A teaching job at a college in Puerto Rico decides it, and he finds himself flying “home” to a place and culture he knows only through his parents’ recollections. Once there, he must deal with Julia’s strong-willed nature, a department chair not thrilled to have a Nuyorican on staff, squatters living in the house he inherited, students frequently on strike and a lover anxious to settle down. Most disturbing is the rumor that numerous faculty and staff are dying from cancer because the campus, a former U.S. military base, is full of buried munitions.
Rennie soon finds himself working to expose the government’s lies, though he risks losing his job, his home and even the woman he loves. In his debut novel, J.L. Torres captures the conflict and challenges experienced by Puerto Ricans returning to their “homeland.”
What People Are Saying about The Accidental Native
*Starred Review* In Torres’ inspired debut, Rennie Falto discovers that all of his notions about home, family, and even citizenship no longer apply. Upon the sudden deaths of both his parents, the recent college graduate must accompany their remains to Puerto Rico, the land of their birth, but not his. As far as he’s concerned, he is an American, born to naturalized American citizens. Legal issues compel him to stay awhile, and he meets a beautiful older woman—a complete stranger—who claims to be his biological mother. Circumstances force him to apply for, and get, a teaching job at a small college on the island. And so the tension heightens. While his open-minded parents had always tried to instill in him a sense of pride in his cultural heritage, Rennie was so removed from it in his everyday life that on the island he is considered an alien, a “nuyorican.” Torres does capture the conflicts and challenges Puerto Ricans experience when returning to their homeland, but he reaches beyond the specific to the universal, illuminating the lives and feelings of any second-generation American in a similar situation. –Donna Chavez, Booklist.
“An elegant, heartbreaking novel imbued with a love for what is lost and later found. The Puerto Rican migration has come full circle … a land and its people are one and the same, no matter where one is standing.”
–Ernesto Quiñonez, author of Bodega Dreams
“The reader discovers a beautiful, troubled land and its citizens…suffering from a very real identity crisis. This is a good introduction to a cultural and political situation and to the post-colonial mindset of a people who were granted U.S. citizenship, but who do not enjoy all of its privileges.”
–Judith Ortiz Cofer, author of Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood.
- PUBLISHER: Arte Publico Press
- ISBN: 978-1558857773
- DIMENSIONS: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
- PAGES: 248]
- PRICE: $17.95
- RELEASE DATE: 09/30/2013
- PURCHASE HERE
About J.L. Torres
J.L. Torres was born in Cayey, Puerto Rico, a town in the center of the island. He grew up in the South Bronx and received all of his formal education in the States, then returned to the island to find “roots” and material for his writing. After years teaching at the college level there, he returned to New York. Besides New York City, he has lived in Madrid, Chicago, Los Angeles, and most recently in Barcelona on a Fulbright. His work focuses on the diasporican experience—living in the inbetweeness that forms and informs the Puerto Rican experience in the US and the island. In the collection, The Family Terrorist and Other Stories (Arte Publico),the novel, The Accidental Native (Arte Publico), as well as his poetry collection Boricua Passport (2Leaf Press), he aims to go beyond issues of identity, although these are central to that experience. “Through my fiction,” says Torres, “I am exploring what it means to live a life yearning for ‘belongingness’ at a time when you’re told nation and home are empty concepts, and you have no historical memory of what they ever meant.”
Torres holds a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. His MFA thesis was a collection of short stories, Salchichon Soup, some of which have been revised and re-written and included in Family Terrorist. Before earning the MFA, he freelanced with magazines and newspapers, was the Managing Editor for the popular, but now defunct salsa magazine, Latin NY, and published a string of stories in small magazines, including one anthologized in Growing Up Latino, a volume published by Houghton-Mifflin.
While working on his doctorate, and learning to write critical essays, he channeled his creative writing efforts to poetry. To date, he has published various poems in journals such as the North American Review, Denver Quarterly, the Americas Review, Crab Orchard Review, Bilingual Review, Connecticut Review, Tulane Review, Puerto del Sol, among others. Recently, he has returned to his first love, writing fiction and presently he’s working on a collection of stories dealing with estrangement and researching material for a novel on the Puerto Rican icon, Roberto Clemente.
Currently, Torres is Professor of English at SUNY Plattsburgh, where he teaches American literature, Latina/o literatures, and Creative Writing. He is the Editor of the Saranac Review and the Co-Editor, along with Carmen H. Rivera, of Writing Off the Hyphen: New Perspectives on the Literature of the Puerto Rican Diaspora.
He lives in Plattsburgh, New York—known to friends and relatives as “carajo county”—with his wife and two sons, a spirited Coton de Toulear called Moe-Jo, and a lot of snow. He has no known hobbies, has never been in prison or any gangs, has never had quirky and funky jobs, and is notoriously inept with tools.