Fiction: Migrations by J.L. Torres

Migrations

Migrations, the latest short story collection from award-winning Puerto Rican writer J.L. Torres, takes us inside the lives of the self-exiled.

A womanizing “sucio” goes to an underground clinic for therapy to end his machista ways and is accidentally transitioned. Ex-gangbangers try to keep their troubled, gifted son from the gangsta lifestyle promoted by an emerging music called hip-hop. Dead and stuck “between somewhere and nowhere,” the great Puerto Rican baseball icon Roberto Clemente must confront the reason for his predicament.

Each story expertly merges the worldly with the bizarre, following a cast of characters estranged from their loved ones, family, culture, and collective history. “Upon reading the first tale, I understood that I held a masterwork in my hands,” writes novelist Yxta Maya Murray. “[Torres’s] narratives illuminate the loneliness of exile, unbelonging, and the necessary struggles to find love.”

J.L. Torres has previously published short stories, a novel, and a collection of poetry. His work explores the diasporican experience: living in the inbetweeness that forms and informs what it means to be Puerto Rican. “I am exploring what it means to live a life yearning for ‘belongingness’ at a time when you’re told nation and home are empty concepts,” Torres says, “and you have no historical memory of what they ever meant.”

The stories in Migrations are manifestations of the Puerto Rican diaspora, scattered between Puerto Rico, the Bronx, Maui, Cancún, and even a virtual reality. The collection opens with a line by the Puerto Rican poet Victor Hernández Cruz, “Migration is the story of my body,” speaking powerfully to Torres’s characters as they navigate physical transition as well as the flux of circumstance and identity.

Migrations is the winner of the inaugural Tomás Rivera Book Prize, a unique partnership between the Los Angeles Review of Books and the University of California, Riverside, that honors the legacy of writer and UC chancellor Tomás Rivera. The prize aims to discover and foster extraordinary writing by an author whose work examines the contributions of Chicanx/Latinx in the United States. “Migrations showcases a major talent,” says this year’s judge, the writer Luis Alberto Urrea. “It resonates with the music of hard-luck classics from our past, yet sings songs of evasive redemption.”

Migrations is a bold and multifaceted collection deeply embedded in the Puerto Rican experience. “Despite the effects of colonization of the body and mind, Puerto Ricans form part of the American mosaic,” says Torres. “We have stories to tell.”

Torres is the author of The Family Terrorist and Other Stories, the novel The Accidental Native, and the poetry collection Boricua Passport. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the South Bronx, he now lives in Plattsburgh, New York and teaches American literature, US ethnic literatures, and creative writing at SUNY Plattsburgh. He holds a Ph.D. from University of Southern California and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. ◊

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