PLATTSBURGH — Themes of identity — personal and national — vibrate at the core of Jose Torres’s debut novel, “The Accidental Native,” published by Arte Publico Press.
Torres has penned a tender but unflinching love/hate story about Puerto Rico as glimpsed through the eyes of Rene “Rennie” Falto, a Nuyorican (New York-Puerto Rican) who returns to his ancestral homeland to bury his parents, who died in a tragic accident.
Upon pressured reflection and a job offer, he returns to reconnect the umbilical between himself and his biological mother, Julia Matos Canales, a fiery attorney and independentista who made a mommy-dearest confession at his parents’ grave site in Bana.
Rennie also seeks to bridge the ruptured connectivity between him and the place he would call home, the Enchanted Island. He teaches at La Universidad de Bana, where there are cancer-cluster-zone whispers about the campus, a former U.S. military base.
As Falto navigates his new life, he tries to find national pride and love against the backdrop of students who strike in a conga line.
Torres wrote much of the book while a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Barcelona, Spain. He spent a sabbatical away from SUNY Plattsburgh, where he is a professor of English.
In “The Accidental Native,” art imitates life. Puerto Rico is glimpsed in all its schizoid independence/statehood glory from Falto’s insider/outside lens that is Torres’ also.
“I lived there from 1981 to 2000 with four years in between when I was away for my Ph.D.,” Torres said.
“During that period, I was very much like the character. Then, I came back to the states and thought that would make a very good novel about going back. There is no book about Puerto Ricans’ return migration. I thought that was a really good idea for a book, and that started me on the road for writing it.”