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The Book of Want

a novel

A Novel by Daniel A. Olivas

Publication Year: 2011

When Moses descended Mount Sinai carrying the Ten Commandments, he never could have foreseen how one family in Los Angeles in the early twenty-first century would struggle to live by them.

Conchita, a voluptuous, headstrong single woman of a certain age, sees nothing wrong with enjoying the company of handsome—and usually much younger—men . . . that is, until she encounters a widower with unusual gifts and begins to think about what she really wants out of life.

Julieta, Conchita’s younger sister, walks a more traditional path, but she and her husband each harbor secrets that could change their marriage and their lives forever. Their twin sons, both in college, struggle to find fulfillment. Mateo refuses to let anyone stand in the way of his happiness, while Rolando grapples with his sexuality and the family’s expectations. And from time to time, Belén, the family’s late matriarch, pays a visit to advise, scold, or cajole her hapless descendants.

A delightful family tapestry woven with the threads of all those whose lives are touched by Conchita, The Book of Want is an enchanting blend of social and magical realism that tells a charming story about what it means to be fully human.

Published by: University of Arizona Press


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pp. ix

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Prologue: The Law Giver

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pp. xiii-xiv

Conchita kicked her legs back and forth as they dangled from the edge of the chair. She fingered pieces of tamales de puerco past her greasy lips and happily hummed a nondescript melody. Bel

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1. Other Gods

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pp. 1-12

When Conchita was old enough to chew solid foods, her mother, Belén, put before her eldest daughter a cracked, blue plate holding two steaming tamales de puerco in a glistening onion-and-cilantro sauce. Her mother’s cooking spoiled Conchita forever, of course. After leaving Mexico for good and settling—alone at first—in Los Angeles as a young woman of sixteen, Conchita could never find pork tamales that matched her mother’s. Even when she tried to...

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2. Has He Been There for You?

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pp. 13-20

He dropped the receiver in its cradle with a loud clack! not waiting for a response from his sister-in-law. Manuel let out a little laugh when he realized that he actually hadn’t lied to Conchita. Julieta was, indeed, shopping in downtown and she had left her cell phone here on the desk. He had been lying so often lately that his truthfulness with Conchita amused him. Manuel grabbed his wallet and keys. He had told Julieta that he was going...

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3. Domingo

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pp. 21-27

Julieta nudged Manuel with her elbow. He offered nothing more than a grunt in response and pulled the blankets over his head. “Please come with me,” she said. “Like we used to before the twins.” Manuel mumbled something. “What, mi cielo?” Manuel lifted his head an inch from the pillow: “That was almost nineteen years ago.” “So?” He let his head drop dramatically onto the pillow and pulled the blankets...

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4. How to Date a Flying Mexican

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pp. 29-37

After the second night Conchita witnessed Moisés flying in his backyard under the moonlight, and after the first night they shared her bed (which happened to be the second night she witnessed him flying in his backyard under the moonlight), she realized that no one, not even her sister Julieta, could learn of her new novio’s extraordinary talent. What would people think? Certainly gossip would spread throughout the neighborhood, eventually migrating south...

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5. The Dreamer

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pp. 39-46

The dream came to Belén most nights, usually when los grillos sang their song during hot evenings and the open windows allowed this uninvited serenade to disturb her sleep. As Belén’s papá often told her, a restless night opens the door to bad dreams. “Mija,” Adolfo would coo to his only child, “if you keep sleep from your bed, you will be visited by bad dreams. Don’t fight sleep. It is your amigo. Let it take you away. You are only ten. You should have nothing...

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6. Los Dos

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pp. 47-55

Julieta pulled her sons together in a tight hug. Rolando and Mateo groaned but reciprocated by squeezing their mother, sighing in unison and then ultimately accepting her love. When they were little, the twins couldn’t wait to be embraced by their mother. But as freshmen in college standing in the middle of Westwood midday on a bright, sunny Tuesday just outside UCLA’s sprawling campus for all the world to see, such public demonstrations of maternal affection...

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7. El Cucuy

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pp. 57-63

I’m not certain how it came to this. This thing I can’t name. But if you’re old enough to marry and have children—that’s really the key to understanding what I’m talking about—then you probably could imagine what it means to sit in a room, with no answers, all alone because even your own mother had to get some sleep, certain that you’ve lost it all—everything that ever mattered—and you feel like vomiting, losing it all right then, but you can’t even bring yourself to do that. ...

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8. Bel

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pp. 65-78

Belén stumbled and fell hard on her knees in the middle of the dirt road. A chicken clucked in front of her and didn’t seem to care that this fifteen-year-old girl’s dress was ripped in three places and that dried blood mixed with bits of straw and grime covered her thin legs. Belén knew this stupid chicken. It sported a heart-shaped spot on its left wing and had escaped her uncle’s...

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9. Yahrzeit

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pp. 79-91

Julieta looked into the rearview mirror and saw her son staring back at her from his battered Corolla. She didn’t know the young man in the passenger seat but without a doubt Rolando sat behind the wheel. Julieta’s body buzzed with a shock like the first time she took the twins to Disneyland when they were four years old and she turned for but a second to pay for two Mickey Mouse...

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10. Want: A Symphony

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pp. 93-118

The afterlife really began to annoy Bel


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pp. 119-121

E-ISBN-13: 9780816501250
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816528998

Publication Year: 2011