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Volume 41. No. 2.
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Bookshelf: Voices de Amor
Professor Susana Chavez-Silverman's bilingual memoir is a "delicate act of seduction."

Killer Crónicas: Bilingual Memories
By Susana Chávez-Silverman
Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Pomona College
The University of Wisconsin Press, 2004
152 pages • $19.95


By Erika Gamst '01

“Voice” entails not only one’s words but also the tone, language, form and function of the
words chosen.

In her new book Killer Crónicas: Bilingual Memories, the voice of Susana Chávez-Silverman,
professor of romance languages and literatures at Pomona College, stands out as honest,
sarcastic and strangely comfortable—familiar, despite a fresh and inventive linguistic
approach.

Chávez-Silverman speaks to her readers in a combination of both English and Spanish. The so-called “Spanglish” idiom has been around for ages, and as the author explains, “Linguists call this ‘phenomenon’ code-switching, and it happens quite regularly, not only en las Américas, but just about anywhere two (or more) languages come into contact. Killer Crónicas is itself a collection of chronicles: letters relating the author’s time spent abroad, accounts of everyday events, as well as descriptions of the unforgettable—original and stylistic descriptions of experiences como lo del Bar El Chino and the ride around town con el taxista de terror. Through detailed accounts of life in Buenos Aires, Chávez-Silverman takes the reader into a time and place that still lives and breathes in her memory, making the experiences livable for those who are willing to pick up her text and travel with her.

The narrative—not entirely an autobiography, nor a memoir, prose or poetry—is a mixture of ideas, ranging from a reminiscence of time spent at home in an unfamiliar country to a
candid and therapeutic study of the author’s relationships with community, places and the general details of life that are so often overlooked.

Chávez-Silverman herself explains, “These crónicas began as letters: cartas a amigos extrañados, love letters to cities, smells, people, voices and geographies I missed.” She
places within each letter a certain dedication to perfect correspondence, complete and detailed descriptions, in her words, “fairly baroque, involved, soul-searching missives.”
Each of the crónicas is dedicated to a time, location and person (or people) of rapport, those people who have inspired Chávez-Silverman to think and to write or to those people
whose memories have been revitalized through the everyday events that she has re-scripted for the reader.

Her “Anniversary Crónica” was awarded el Andar Prize for Literary Excellence in the category of personal memoir. The crónica relates her observations and memories as inspired
by the June 16 wedding anniversary of her parents, coupled with the anniversary of the Soweto Riots (South Africa, June 13-16, 1976). The description, an anomalous comparison of two unrelated events, is provocative as the reader is encouraged in this instance to think like the author: “… forever my parents’ aniversario de boda, linked en la historia and in my memory al aniversario de la masacre de los estudiantes en Soweto.”

Over the course of the publication, it becomes evident that Chávez-Silverman is constantly
rethinking and reinvigorating her method of writing.

“Living in Buenos Aires,” she says about her foremost inspiration, “that gorgeous, turn of
the century city in a country on the brink of (economic) collapse—home to many of the
authors and artists I had long admired (Borges, Cortázar, Storni, Pizarnik, and before
them, the foundational Romantics, Sarmiento and Echeverría)—brought out a sense of self,
displaced yet oddly at home in a cultural, linguistic and even tangible way. In Buenos
Aires, the fragmented parts of me, the voices, cultures and places inside of me, rubbed up
against each other and struck fire. I called my e-mail missives ‘Crónicas,’ inspired by
the early conquistadores, and refashioned by modern-day counterparts such as Carlos
Monsiváis, Elena Poniatowska and Cristina Pacheco.”

A master of descriptive language, Chávez-Silverman is a writer who has impressed critics
and contemporaries with an innate ability to illustrate her thoughts. She draws clear
pictures with her statements, word images that can be envisioned both by readers who can
easily maneuver the Spanglish text, as well as by those whose knowledge of Spanish is
limited.

Although it poses more of a challenge to the reader who knows little or no Spanish, the
text is like word art as opposed to a story, a mingling of the two idioms, chronicles expressing delight and desire, nostalgia and anxiety in the same breath. Whether the
reader is versed in Spanglish or not, the author’s voice is clearly heard and routinely
met with an appreciation for her obvious mastery of language itself.

When pressed about the free and open quality of her crónicas, Chávez-Silverman replied,
“It is not entirely true that I put down ‘all my thoughts and feelings.’ ... I reveal exactly and only what I choose. It’s a delicate act of seduction: I like to tease the
reader and keep her and him wanting more.

“Always more.”
©Copyright 2004
by Pomona College
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