Written with exquisite sensitivity and wit, this memoir by one of Mexico’s foremost men of letters describes coming of age during the violence of the Mexican Revolution and “living dangerously” as an openly homosexual man in a brutally machista society.
Salvador Novo (1904–1974) was a provocative and prolific cultural presence in Mexico City through much of the twentieth century. With his friend and fellow poet Xavier Villaurrutia, he cofounded Ulises and Contemporáneos, landmark avant-garde journals of the late 1920s and 1930s. At once “outsider” and “insider,” Novo held high posts at the Ministries of Culture and Public Education and wrote volumes about Mexican history, politics, literature, and culture. The author of numerous collections of poems, including XX poemas, Nuevo amor, Espejo, Dueño mío, and Poesía 1915–1955, Novo is also considered one of the finest, most original prose stylists of his generation.
Pillar of Salt is Novo’s incomparable memoir of growing up during and after the Mexican Revolution; shuttling north to escape the Zapatistas, only to see his uncle murdered at home by the troops of Pancho Villa; and his initiations into literature and love with colorful, poignant, complicated men of usually mutually exclusive social classes. Pillar of Salt portrays the codes, intrigues, and dynamics of what, decades later, would be called “a gay ghetto.” But in Novo’s Mexico City, there was no name for this parallel universe, as full of fear as it was canny and vibrant. Novo’s memoir plumbs the intricate subtleties of this world with startling frankness, sensitivity, and potential for hilarity. Also included in this volume are nineteen erotic sonnets, one of which was long thought to have been lost.
Renée Ashley describes Salt as an attempt, in part, to mythologize a period of the 1950s and early 1960s in the California Bay Area suburb where she grew up, “a racially rich, economically varied section of town east of El Camino Real—the major road and the ‘tracks’, so to speak, that one grew up on the right or wrong side of.” Many of the poems in the collection explore Ashley’s adjustment to the East Coast after a virtual lifetime in “that one place.” They deal with landscape, with marriage, with the insight distance seems to lend to hindsight, with amusement, with regret.
“Renée Ashley can tune our ears to the thoughts of a wounded sparrow, to the sibilance of snow on stone, even to the song rocks make as they thaw in spring. . . . She wakes us to an intricate, enthralling world behind, beneath, beyond the one we thought we knew, alive with particulars, laced with compassion, luminous with humor.”—Donald Finkel
In republican Colombia, salt became an important source of revenue not just to individuals, but to the state, which levied taxes on it and in some cases controlled and profited from its production. The salt trade consistently accounted for roughly ten percent of government income.
In the town of la Salina de Chita, in Boyacá province, thermal springs offered vast amounts of salt, and its procurement and distribution was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance. Focusing his study on la Salina, Joshua M. Rosenthal presents a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the early Colombian state, its institutions, and their interactions with local citizens during this formative period. Although historians have cited the state’s weakness, and in many cases, its absence in local affairs, Rosenthal counters these assumptions by documenting the primary role the state held in administering contracts, inspections, land rights, labor, and trade in la Salina, and contends that this was not an isolated incident. He also uncovers the frequent interaction between the state and local residents, who used the state’s liberal rhetoric to gain personal economic advantage.
Seen through the lens of the administration of la Salina’s salt works, Rosenthal provides a firsthand account of the role of local institutions and fiscal management in the larger process of state building. His study offers new perspectives on the complex network of republican Colombia’s political culture, and its involvement in provincial life across the nation.
Analyzing multiple memories of state violence, Frazier innovatively shapes social and cultural theory to interpret a range of sources, including local and national government archives, personal papers, popular literature and music, interviews, architectural and ceremonial commemorations, and her ethnographic observations of civic associations, women's and environmental groups, and human rights organizations. A masterful integration of extensive empirical research with sophisticated theoretical analysis, Salt in the Sand is a significant contribution to interdisciplinary scholarship on human rights, democratization, state formation, and national trauma and reconciliation.
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