On June 15, 1871, Mark Twain wrote his friend James Redpeath, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Jokingly, Twain identified a basic truth of writing, that it’s often easier to write a lot of words quickly than to say something briefly but to the point with more meaning.
I’m reminded of the quote because “Dreams of an American Exile” is a novella (75 pages) instead of a conventional novel. Novellas, which can have the focus of a short story but the scope of a novel, are often short enough to complete in one reading. But, as one author put it, “To say a novella is a short novel is to say a pony is a baby horse.” Among the list of great novellas are “Of Mice and Men,” “Death in “Venice,” “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and “Heart of Darkness.”
First-time author, Eric Z. Weintraub, a Santa Monica native, Samohi graduate, class of ’08, and USC alum class of ’13, has done an admirable job. “Dreams” won the Plaza Literary Prize, an award given to authors demonstrating proficiency in the art of the novella.
Weintraub’s book offers a first-hand look at one of the great issues of our time, immigration. Without taking sides, he presents a reality of deportation in terms of human suffering.
Dreams follows Rose Quintero, an undocumented college senior who epitomizes the American dream. But, as the story begins to unwind, the dream becomes a nightmare.
Attending a campus protest over public education cuts that gets out of hand, Rose is caught up in the arrests. Much to her horror, she’s soon deported from Tucson to the Mexican border town of Nogales.
Dumped in a country she fled with her parents as a baby, Rose struggles to survive on the dangerous streets. Resorting to illegal behavior she wouldn’t have imagined for herself, she desperately searches for a way back to the only home she’s ever known — the U.S.
Beginning in 2012, Weintraub began the long process of researching and writing his book. He traveled to Mexico and Arizona to speak with people on both sides of the debate. He met with deportees, humanitarian workers and border patrol agents. He also spoke with recognized public figures like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and undocumented, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.
To his credit, Weintraub does not proselytize. Instead he provides details and descriptions so vivid the reader can visualize the near hopeless circumstances Rose experiences. Regardless of one’s views on the immigration debate, you can’t help but hope Rose prevails. Passages are so “real” and gritty it makes politicians debating the subject on television seem trivial compared to the human cost.
In places Weintraub’s dialogue is not as realistic as are his descriptions. At 25, however, he has plenty of time to develop a better ear.
Weintraub is currently working on a second book about undocumented immigration, a collection of short stories. One of the stories, “La Laguna” was published last year by Mobius: The Journal of Social Change.
“Dreams of an American Exile” was published last month by the Orange County based publisher 1888 Center. To celebrate the book’s release, a reading will be held at Small World Books, next to the Sidewalk Cafe on the boardwalk in Venice at 1401 Ocean Front Walk.
The reading by Eric Weintraub will be on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 2:00 p.m. He will field questions from the audience and will sign books afterward. Small World Books’ phone number is (310) 399-2360. The event is open to the public.
Tagline: Dreams of an American Exile is available at Small World Books or on Amazon. Contact Eric at email@example.com or visit ericzweintraub.com. Jack Neworth writes Laughing Matters which appears every Friday and he’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.