Monday, January 17, 2022

Review: Memoirs of Oed Silva ‘The Death of My Dad’s Father’

On the shelf

The Death of My Father’s Dad: Memories

Silva Lunch
MCD: 304 pages, $ 27.

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“As I understand it, death can’t be that bad because we all have to die,” observes Lunch Silva in The Death of My Father-Dad. “So why are we so fiddling about life?” The question remains under the surface of these memoirs like a blur. Silva himself has repeatedly returned from the brink: a former member of the gang (a shot at 17 left him paralyzed from the waist down), now he is a professor at East College Los Angeles. “Seven times,” he writes, “I nearly died, and I’ll probably have several more death encounters by the time I finish telling this story. … But I’m still here. “

A sense of weakness – or, more accurately, a smooth interaction between death and life – is a key factor in Death of My Father, Dad, which begins with the death of the author’s father, Juan, an artist and alcoholic. who drank himself to death in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 2009, at the age of 48. Silva structures the book, her first, around her travel across the border for commemoration and burial, but this is not a linear account. Instead, the memoir is intertwined in time, using memory and language to hide or reveal the complexities of the father-son relationship.

Take, for example, the word “papa”, which has several meanings for Silva. On the one hand, “in Spanish, papa is translated as papa, the same word is used to refer to papa.” On the other hand, his father was nothing more than life: the Pope in an almost literal sense. “That’s all he does, his job, his great job,” Silva imagines as she tells her little sister. “Your father was a pope, didn’t you know, and everything he did was holy. That’s why they cry for him, that’s why they mourn his death. “

Silva’s observation is both direct and hyperbolic, which can be said about the “Death of My Father Daddy” in general. The author loved his father, but also hated him, and his death was a joy and a relief. He only travels to Mexico at the insistence of his mother. “You need to heal,” she advises, “and you can’t do that if you don’t forgive your father. This is the only way to close these wounds. “

Their exchange establishes essential contradictions of memoirs – between the past and the present, the sins of the father and the sins of the son. “This woman,” muses Silva, “who raised me by herself, without asking my father for anything – not a cent – showed me what real strength looks like. It’s not about muscle, not about violence or superiority; it was in meekness and humility when I simply said that I forgive you and moved on. “

Photo of Dinner Silva and his father.

Silva and his father Juan lunch at the Century Regional Park in Santa Ana, 1981. From The Death of My Father-Dad.

(From Lunch Silva)

For Silva, however, things are not so simple. “Father, why can’t I cry for you?” he wonders. “Haven’t you left me yet? Do I still carry you with me wherever I go? Silva makes such contradictions apparent when he looks at the body: “Remember the monster,” he reminds himself. “Remember the rage” – and cuts the thumb, removing the protective sheet of plexiglass. “A drop of blood from my finger falls on my father’s face,” he recalls, “and falls on his cheek just below his right eye.” Remembering the tattoo of his name on the dead man’s chest, Silva unbuttons her father’s shirt and writes the letters again under faded ink, this time etching them with blood. “You were my father, and I was your blood,” he whispers. “I am your son. I am your son. Take it, papa, take your blood with you. “

Silva explores the fiefdom, which in his case is a minefield of casualties. His memories, which continue to grow, filling the present, are fraught: if not always violent, then often charged. Each positive memory – a trip to Ensenada with Danny’s father and stepbrother; A visit to Los Balnearios Robinson, Chihuahua’s water park, has the opposite: the night that Silva’s father tried to recruit four friends to help his children, an evening that ended in a brothel after he took Silva for drugs. “Here I buried my father for the first time,” the author notes. “I buried him here, where I found solace in a conversation with a prostitute. A funeral took place here; that’s where I put him to rest. “

This kind of eulogy leaves no room for sorrow. “My father loved us,” Silva admits, “but he loved us as only a sick person can love anyone: immodestly. … He kissed us one minute, and the next made fun of us. With one hand he conveyed the dream to us, and with the other he crushed it. “

In the end, it was enough – for Silva, as well as for his mother, who moved with him to California when he was a young boy, experiencing mounting waves of violence and abuse. “Because he caused her a lot of emotional distress and physical suffering throughout her early adult life,” he writes in a confession, “my mother would not want to have anything to do with anything to do with my father. By the end of this book, you will fully understand why. ” The final chapter of the memoir, which details Silva’s concept, presents a creation myth that is the opposite of the virgin one, a manifestation not of redemption but of his father’s original sin.

Photo of Silva and brother Danny's dinner at Ensenada in 1997.

Dinner Silva and Danny’s brother in Ensenada, Mexico, in 1997, months after Dinner was shot. From The Death of My Dad’s Father.

(Juan Silva)

The power of “The Death of My Father Pope” lies in Silva’s willingness to address even this; he never looks away. His book is a story of unrequited love, told in passages through the prism of death. I would like to hug him, Silva thinks as his father is buried. “I wish I could feel the stubble on his cheeks.” Instead, he is left with something more elusive, but also more poignant: an excuse.

“How about this son, we will die together,” Silva imagines his father asking, while in his head he gives the only answer: “You are the first, Dad, you are the first.”

Ulin is a former editor and book critic for The Times.

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