The Gringo Champion (Campeón gabacho) by Aura Xilonen (2017)
Translated by Andrea Rosenberg
Fiction | Contemporary | Sports
“WINNER OF THE MAURICIO ACHAR PRIZE FOR FICTION
Liborio has to leave Mexico, a land that has taught him little more than a keen instinct for survival. He crosses the Rio Bravo, like so many others, to reach “the promised land.” And in a barrio like any other, in some gringo city, this illegal immigrant tells his story.
As Liborio narrates his memories we discover a childhood scarred by malnutrition and abandonment, an adolescence lived with a sense of having nothing to lose. In his new home, he finds a job at a bookstore. He falls in love with a woman so intensely that his fantasies of her verge on obsession. And, finally, he finds himself on a path that just might save him: he becomes a boxer.
Liborio’s story is constructed in a dazzling language that reflects the particular culture of border towns and expresses both resistance and fascination.
This is a migrants’ story of deracination, loneliness, fear, and finally, love told in a sparkling, innovative prose. It’s Million Dollar Baby meets The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and a story of migration and hope that is as topical as it is timeless.”
pooled ink Review:
Hmm what to say…
I discovered this book honestly because I was missing an author on my list whose last name began with an X. I asked Goodreads, a list popped up, I scanned the list, and this book stood out to me. Discovering this book was total chance. But the plot intrigued me, called to mind the movie Million Dollar Baby, and I was excited enough to give it a try. Unfortunately the idea was far superior to the execution.
It lacks depth and patience when it comes to establishing both character and world. Everything is either surface level, rushed, or left out altogether. Because of this it was difficult to follow along with what was happening making flashbacks and thoughts feel random and rather confusing. I struggled to feel attached to any of the characters because hardly any time was spent to get to know them, understand them, or bond with them. And I could only picture glimpses of the setting rather than have a whole world painted in my mind as I read. The plot moved swiftly which is great for a first draft but the book itself would have been improved if the author had gone back, taken a deep breath, and expanded the story with imagery, detail, and emotion. When I read I want to be captivated, not wishing I could just look up a summary online to save me time.
My other big issue was with the writing itself. I’m not sure how much blame falls on the shoulders of translation but the dialogue didn’t feel natural or believable. The writing is odd, choppy, casual, filled with profanity, and then randomly sprinkled with big fancy only-in-a-snooty-thesaurus vocabulary and the effect doesn’t elevate the writing rather it’s unpleasantly jarring. With the dialogue it was often so congested with profanity that it was almost unreadable at times. I personally am not usually bothered by the use of profanity however there would at times be so much in a dialogue sequence that I couldn’t understand what was trying to be said at all. Along with that some of the metaphors, descriptions, etc. make little to no sense, but once again I’m not sure how much of that is the author’s mistake or the translator’s. And as the story unfolds, the shifts between dialogue and narration lack any rhythm. A book doesn’t have to be written in flowing lyrical prose, it can be exhilarating and quick and brutal, but no matter what style is chosen there has to be a rhythm for the reader to follow in order to be lulled into the tale and this book lacked that.
I hate that I don’t have an overflowing essay of positivity to write for this review. As a Mexican-American I wanted to really support this book and excitedly shout about it all over social media. There is definite potential in this story but it’s rough and lacks any professional finesse. If the author were to go back and re-haul the writing then this book could genuinely be on every ‘Must-read’ list out there. So much potential…
Purchase Here: The Gringo Champion
Meet Aura Xilonen!
Aura Xilonen is a novelist and filmmaker. She won the 2015 Premio Mauricio Achar for her first novel, Gringo Champion, published in Mexico under a pseudonym when she was just 19.
-Europa Editions UK