After a stirring e-mail exchange with his father, awardwinning essayist and cultural commentator Ilan Stavans decided to do something bizarre: revisit his hometown, Mexico City, accompanied by a tourist guide. But rather than seeking his roots in the neighborhood where he grew up, he headed to the Centro Histórico, the downtown area at the heart of the world’s largest metropolis. It was there that conversos, the hidden Jews escaping the might of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, were burned at the stake. And, centuries later, it was the same section where Jewish immigrants, both Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim and Sephardim from the Ottoman Empire, made their homes as peddlers. In a sense, Centro Histórico is to Mexico what the Lower East Side is to the United States: a platform for reinventing one’s self in the New World.
With the same linguistic verve and insight that has made him one of the most distinguished voices in American literature today, Ilan Stavans invites readers along for a personal journey that is not only his own, but that of an entire culture. In Return to Centro Histórico he makes it possible to understand the intimate role that Jews have played in the development of Hispanic civilization.
"Ilan Stavans is dedicated to understanding the World, Latin America, Latino culture, Mexico… In this new book–intelligent, penetrating and informed as ever–he continues to do so, tenaciously seeking to understand himself."
—Alberto Blanco, poet, author of Dawn of the Senses and Afterglow
"A hypnotic, moving exploration of history and identity, wry and entertaining and wise. In this dialogue with a lifetime of photos, Ilan Stavans creates and recreates a world rarely seen."
—Ariel Dorfman, author of Feeding on Dreams
"Essential, seminal reading, Return to Centro Histórico is more than a fascinating weaving of personal and familial history. It is a thought-provoking story of how a boy who wanted to be a magician turned instead into one of our very best writers. Ilan Stavans conjures up his life with candor and an ample heart for family and community."
—Virgil Suarez, author of 90 Miles: Selected and New Poems
"A sweet reading of a little-known face of Mexico."
—Earl Shorris, author of Latinos: A Biography of the People
“In this endearing Proustian journey, old photographs become the madeleines that spark vivid memories and imaginings of the diverse Jewish dreamers who have made Mexico their home. No one but Ilan Stavans could have told this beautiful and haunting story with such affection, wit, and grace.”
—Ruth Behar, author of An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba
"A moving meditation on photographs where memory and history collide. Ilan Stavans illuminates a Jewish penchant for picturing time, life, and family in Mexico City in the 20th century."
—Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan