Amigoland is Brownsville author Oscar Casares’s debut novel about two elderly brothers who set off on a road trip into Mexico. The brothers, Don Fidencio and Don Celestino, have been estranged for a long time. After a health scare, Don Celestino decides to reach out to his older brother, Don Fidencio, who is 91 years old and living in a nursing home in Brownsville, Texas.
Don Fidencio is twenty years older than Don Celestino, who, aside from this heath scare, still feels able-bodied and young at heart. Meanwhile, Don Fidencio hates life in the nursing home. He, too, feels young at heart. He still tries to be as self-sufficient as possible, and even though he is 91 years old, he adamantly believes that he does not belong in the nursing home full of dying old people. He hatches a plot for Don Celestino and his girlfriend, Socorro, to get him out of the nursing home and travel him deep into Mexico to their grandfather’s ranch, El Rancho Capote, which may or may not exist. Don Fidencio wants to put to rest once and for all the argument that led to their estrangement, and prove that his mythical version of their grandfather’s history is the correct one. Though Don Celestino and Socorro balk at his request at first, they take pity on Don Fidencio’s life in the nursing home and agree to go with him to El Rancho Capote.
Casares has a beautiful way with words. I live about an hour away from Brownsville, TX, and I’m constantly amazed at his ability to capture the atmosphere of the Rio Grande Valley. I also love the personalities he gives his characters. Take, for instance, this passage describing Don Fidencio’s naming system in the nursing home:
He had given up trying to remember everyone’s name…Instead, he had come up with a special name for everyone, usually having to do with some dominant feature, but then kept these names to himself because he still had enough sense left to know that The One With The Flat Face probably wouldn’t like being told she had a flat face. Really, it was more her nose that was flat, but once he came up with a name he rarely changed it, so The One With The Flat Face it was. Besides, there was already The One With The Beak For A Nose and he didn’t want to get them mixed up…The One With The Worried Face had a name that reflected his disagreeable nature and yet was different from the strained and troubled face of the old man known as The One Who Always Looks Constipated.
The book is filled with similar humor. Socorro provides the voice of reason when things start to get out of hand, often acting as the arbitrator whenever the two equally-stubborn brothers start bickering with one another. They make quite a memorable trio.
While on the surface the book charts the brothers’ determination to keep their dignity in the face of old age, Amigoland is also about the importance of one’s ties to their family and culture. Ultimately, it’s a sweet story.