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Ernesto Quiñonez:
Bodega Dreams
Ernesto Quinonez
  Bodega Dreams  
Ernesto Quinonez    
essay

an excerpt



  Bodega Dreams is a white-hot debut novel by Ernesto Quiñonez set in his home turf, Spanish Harlem. Quiñonez animates the story of this politically charged urban landscape with razor-sharp character sketches. Chino, a street-smart mural painter bound for college, is the narrator. He introduces us to Sapo, who has a reputation for biting, "When I'm in a fight," Sapo would spit, "whass close to my mouth is mine by right and my teeth ain't no fucken pawnshop." We meet a white teacher who acts like a malevolent missionary and a beloved Latino teacher who tries to instill as much cultural pride as knowledge of science in his students. Chino's dream girl is Blanca, a Pentecostal true believer as gorgeous in her short tight skirts as she is pure in her devotion. The title character is Willie Bodega, a hidden and Gatsby-esque former Young Lord-turned-drug lord. He dreams of a Great Society built on the grants he dispenses to the brightest kids in the neighborhood for college, medical, and law school. He's also a landlord who buys up derelict buildings, refurbishing them and renting them out at sub-market rates to those whose loyalty he is purchasing or rewarding. His dream for this stretch of uptown virtually unknown to its neighbors below East 96th Street is classically revolutionary in spirit: a Spanish Harlem owned and operated by its own population. His pursuit of the dream is both ruthless and calculatingly beneficent. Seemingly, it is also well on its way when we meet a femme fatale straight from the reels of a noir film. Her name is Veronica, though now that she has married rich and moved to Miami, she goes by Vera. She returns for a dedication of a school being named after her for reasons unknown to her and that, anyway, she couldn't care less about: she's home to show off. She does a lot more than that in a novel that serves up harsh reality and lofty aspiration with a humor and immediacy that go a long way in expressing the author's affection for the lives and the streets of East Harlem.

In this issue of Bold Type, you'll find an essay by Ernesto Quiñonez as well as an excerpt from Bodega Dreams.


--Catherine McWeeney
 
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  Photo of Ernesto Quiñonez copyright © Joyce Ravid

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