Cover

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Frontmatter

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Contents

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p. vii

Acknowledgments

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p. ix

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Prologue

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pp. 3-15

“My saddest regret is that I won’t be leaving you money,” my mother wrote down on a piece of paper the day her cancer was diagnosed in Portland, Oregon, “like other mothers would have done.” She repeated this confession over the phone with a nervous laugh. “I’m just not a re-sponsible mother,” she said. ...

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1. Love Child

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pp. 16-48

I am not, by my family’s standards, illegitimate. But, really now, what are the standards? Whose standards anyway? I bear my father’s last name, and this fact, my mother convinced me once, pulls me up a notch or two in the hierarchy of bastardom. I may know nothing about my father’s family and can only imagine vague scenarios inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s dictum that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ...

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2. A Santiago Education

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pp. 49-74

At school, violence erupts and becomes part of my life. At home, there’s a contrast, a refuge, a calm afternoon in which Grandmother and Great-Grandmother drink tea, listen to a soap opera on the radio, and work at adjusting seams or making new dresses on hire for women in the neighborhood. ...

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3. Comadres

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pp. 75-99

Mother was drowning in Ensenada, Mexico. Her arms were tired of waving, and there was no lifeguard in sight. The sun was setting, the beach isolated, and a few fishermen sailed somewhere in the distance too far for them to see her. Only a few seconds before, she had turned around to say something to Mario ...

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4. The Subject Was Roses—or Was It?

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pp. 100-151

It started in adolescence, as it usually does. In junior high school, to be exact, in Silver Spring, Maryland, our second home in the D.C. area after landing in our own private Plymouth Rock/Ellis Island America. Mother doesn’t notice at first. I wasn’t about to talk about it. ...

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5. Italian Holiday

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pp. 152-177

My mother may have embodied Maria von Trapp, the caretaker nanny, as a role model, but she eventually also evolved into one of Tennessee Williams’s lovable neurotics—Alma Winemiller would do, the undefiled woman in the first half of Summer and Smoke. Yet, my mother never became the town’s libidinously inclined wallflower ...

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6.

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pp. 178-212

I flew alone into the United States at ten years of age, and the first word that caught my attention upon my arrival at JFK International Airport glowed in the various signs that pointed toward the world outside: Exit. The Spanish word for “success” is éxito. My translation was, of course, wide of the mark, but my child’s eye saw something else ...

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7. María’s Wedding

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pp. 213-258

I returned from Italy a transformed man, arrayed in a fake Armani sweater and a pair of pseudo-Versace slacks. Streaks of deep auburn highlighted my normally dark brown hair, a “step” zigzagged around the right temple, and thick gel stiffened the rest of it into stringy clumps. UCLA students refused to let go of their cotton T-shirts, sandals, and shorts. I stood out ...

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8. Pterodactyls

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pp. 259-275

I was sleeping in a house of dying people. It was August 31, 2001. Mother had been diagnosed with cancer and sent to Hopewell House, a hospice in Portland, Oregon, where people deemed terminal live out their final days. The hospice included a guest room upstairs for relatives or loved ones. ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 276-278

As I approached completion of the first draft of this book, in March 2007, I received an e-mail from a half-brother in Santiago, Chile, that opened up the floodgates of new information and revelations. I decided not to pursue them in this book, which would remain true to the spirit of the mood in which I started it ...