The Latin Deli by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Prose and Poetry

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Synopsis

Reviewing her novel, The Line of the Sun, the New York Times Book Review hailed Judith Ortiz Cofer as "a writer of authentic gifts, with a genuine and important story to tell." Those gifts are on abundant display in The Latin Deli, an evocative collection of poetry, personal essays, and short fiction in which the dominant subject—the lives of Puerto Ricans in a New Jersey barrio—is drawn from the author's own childhood. Following the directive of Emily Dickinson to "tell all the Truth but tell it slant," Cofer approaches her material from a variety of angles.

An acute yearning for a distant homeland is the poignant theme of the title poem, which opens the collection. Cofer's lines introduce us "to a woman of no-age" presiding over a small store whose wares—Bustelo coffee, jamon y queso, "green plantains hanging in stalks like votive offerings"—must satisfy, however imperfectly, the needs and hungers of those who have left the islands for the urban Northeast. Similarly affecting is the short story "Nada," in which a mother's grief over a son killed in Vietnam gradually consumes her. Refusing the medals and flag proferred by the government ("Tell the Mr. President of the United States what I say: No, gracias."), as well as the consolations of her neighbors in El Building, the woman begins to give away all her possessions The narrator, upon hearing the woman say "nada," reflects, "I tell you, that word is like a drain that sucks everything down."

As rooted as they are in a particular immigrant experience, Cofer's writings are also rich in universal themes, especially those involving the pains, confusions, and wonders of growing up. While set in the barrio, the essays "American History," "Not for Sale," and "The Paterson Public Library" deal with concerns that could be those of any sensitive young woman coming of age in America: romantic attachments, relations with parents and peers, the search for knowledge. And in poems such as "The Life of an Echo" and "The Purpose of Nuns," Cofer offers eloquent ruminations on the mystery of desire and the conflict between the flesh and the spirit.

Cofer's ambitions as a writer are perhaps stated most explicitly in the essay "The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria." Recalling one of her early poems, she notes how its message is still her mission: to transcend the limitations of language, to connect "through the human-to-human channel of art."

 

About Judith Ortiz Cofer

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Judith Ortiz Cofer is the Regents’ and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. She is the author of many books including a novel The Line of the Sun (Georgia), a young adult novel The Meaning of Consuelo, and a collection of poetry A Love Story Beginning in Spanish (Georgia).
 
Published April 11, 2012 by University of Georgia Press. 184 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Literature & Fiction, Biographies & Memoirs. Fiction

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A darker side of immigrant life surfaces in ``Nada,'' however, when a mother's loss of her only son in Vietnam, shortly after the death of her husband, unhinges her: she gives away all she owns, throwing the remainder out the window in a frenzy, before killing herself.

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Publishers Weekly

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Here Ortiz ( Terms of Survival ) vividly depicts the lives of Puerto Rican immigrants through both poetry and prose. ``Corazon's Cafe,'' for example, a short story, tells of a childless couple moving

Nov 01 1993 | Read Full Review of The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry

Publishers Weekly

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The winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for its celebration of diversity, Cofer's collection of essays, fiction and poetry depicts the Puerto Rican immigrant experience.

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Publishers Weekly

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In ``The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria,'' Cofer describes her own experience of the stereotypes of Latina women: before her first poetry reading, an Anglo woman tried to order a cup of coffee from her.

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