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From This Wicked Patch of Dust

A Novel by Sergio Troncoso

Publication Year: 2011

In the border shantytown of Ysleta, Mexican immigrants Pilar and Cuauhtémoc Martínez strive to teach their four children to forsake the drugs and gangs of their neighborhood. The family’s hardscrabble origins are just the beginning of this sweeping new novel from Sergio Troncoso.

Spanning four decades, this is a story of a family’s struggle to become American and yet not be pulled apart by a maelstrom of cultural forces. As a young adult, daughter Julieta is disenchanted with Catholicism and converts to Islam. Youngest son Ismael, always the bookworm, is accepted to Harvard but feels out of place in the Northeast where he meets and marries a Jewish woman. The other boys—Marcos and Francisco—toil in their father’s old apartment buildings, serving as the cheap labor to fuel the family’s rise to the middle class. Over time, Francisco isolates himself in El Paso while Marcos eventually leaves to become a teacher, but then returns, struggling with a deep bitterness about his work and marriage. Through it all, Pilar clings to the idea of her family and tries to hold it together as her husband’s health begins to fail.

This backdrop is then shaken to its core by the historic events of 2001 in New York City. The aftermath sends shockwaves through this newly American family. Bitter conflicts erupt between siblings and the physical and cultural spaces between them threaten to tear them apart. Will their shared history and once-common dreams be enough to hold together a family from Ysleta, this wicked patch of dust?

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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The Beatles in Ysleta

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pp. 1-14

Pilar Martínez stumbled into her mother’s apartment, which had once been a church in El Segundo Barrio in downtown El Paso. Nineteenmonth- old Ismael was limp in her arms. Her husband, Cuauhtémoc, had locked the pale green Chevy Impala in the darkness of San Antonio Avenue. She glimpsed her husband’s grim face. His brown...

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A Chance to Prove Himself

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pp. 15-32

One year later, as Cuauhtémoc drove to work, he thought about where he could get the best prices for two-by-fours and plywood for a cuartito in the backyard. Pilar didn’t want the handsaws, hammers, electric saw, paint buckets, or paintbrushes inside the house anymore. With a cuartito, he could also buy and store extra sacks of cement for the rock...

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The Leaves of Rancho Seco

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pp. 33-42

Pilar Martínez was up before the sun. In front of their adobe house, the amber light of the newly installed streetlamp quivered in the darkness. Southside and Carl Longuemare roads were empty. She piled up her old blankets by the door for Cuauhtémoc to load and yanked out the...

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Four Children, Four Worlds

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pp. 43-60

Julia rummaged through the back of her closet and removed the cardboard boxes of old clothing her mother had kept. As secretary of the student council at Ysleta High School, she was part of the Homecoming skit aimed at roasting the Riverside Rangers that Friday. She knew the stupid cowgirl hat was in the closet, along with the...

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Thousands of Planets from Ysleta

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pp. 61-68

Twenty-year-old Julia was glancing at the northern Italian countryside. The International Herald Tribune, which she had bought in Milan this morning, was still on her lap. Lisa Alvarez, her girlfriend from UTEP, sat next to her on the train to Rome, touching up her bright red lipstick. Pope Paul VI had died the day before, and the speculation about who...

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Little Napoleon

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pp. 69-92

They parked next to the cottonwood in the shadows of the industrial park that had arisen from the cotton fields. Ismael believed his favorite cottonwood had been saved by its spot next to the irrigation canal. The steamy black asphalt for the parking lot, like a slow moving wave of lava, had cooled and halted a few feet from the canal. On this cool Sunday...

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Something to Hold on To

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pp. 93-116

Ismael rolled under his mother’s thick crocheted blanket in his room at Claverly Hall. The wind howled outside his floor-to-ceiling convex window overlooking the spires of Adams House. Mounds of snow piled atop the cobblestone sidewalks of Cambridge. He squinted to decipher the quality of the sunlight, whether it was lunchtime or near...

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Each an Island Adrift

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pp. 117-130

As he drove down the Border Highway, Cuauhtémoc remembered the day when his oldest, Julia, had been born. An expressive, intelligent baby girl, Julia reminded him of his mother: they possessed the same brown-black eyes. Those eyes had practically healed the wound of his mother’s early death when he was ten years old. That Julia was not...

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New Worlds

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pp. 131-150

They had returned to Lilah’s apartment. After she served him a small shot glass of Grand Marnier, they kissed on the sofa (her roommate was out for the evening), and she locked her bedroom door. Yet he wondered whether the car alarm he heard in the distance was from his rental. Soon Ismael and Lilah were in bed together, and the world...

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The Noblest of Blood

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pp. 151-166

The blue-and-white bus lurched forward. Pilar’s fifty-seven-year-old legs were cramped from the long plane ride from Germany. Her arms were sore after carrying her suitcase to the Tel Aviv bus terminal. She tucked her black suitcase underneath her legs and rolled the plastic bag of food into a ball on her lap. Cuauhtémoc had lugged his own heavy...

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Two Brothers

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pp. 167-186

Carmen, their Guatemalan babysitter, had just left. Little David was asleep in the crib that would soon be too big for him, and Ismael had one hour, perhaps two. The taxis and buses on Broadway slowly made their way through the snow-clogged intersection next to Fairway Market. Under the smudgy living room window of their pre-war...

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The New Jerusalem

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pp. 187-202

Ismael left five-year-old David at the Margaret Wise School for Children at 8:45 a.m., after staying for a few minutes to make sure he had placed David’s tiny backpack with his lunch in his cubby. Immediately David started building a block city with his friend Diego on the white linoleum floor. Ismael kissed David on the cheek and...

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The War in Ysleta

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pp. 203-220

The song from a detergent commercial startled Pilar awake. She immediately felt the hardness of the black rosary beads she clutched in her hands, the dull, throbbing pain of her sixty-eight-year-old knees, the spasmodic flutter of her heart. Glancing around their living room, dark except for the bright flashes of the giant TV screen, she saw...

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Lost in the Desert

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pp. 221-228

They were in the clouds. Ismael looked at his sons, David and Benjamin, nine and four years old, one with curly black hair, the other with sandy straight hair. Asleep, they reclined against each other. The plane’s swaying caused their heads to bump softly together like melons in a basket. The honey boys, as Ismael called them, did not wake up...

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 229-230


E-ISBN-13: 9780816521227
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816530045

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2011