Cover image for Places left unfinished at the time of creation
Places left unfinished at the time of creation
Santos, John Phillip.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 1999.
Physical Description:
284 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library F394.S2119 M5175 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation tells of growing up in San Antonio, Texas, in an in-between place and time -- shifting back and forth across the Mexican border, between present realities and ancient cultures. Interweaving family remembrance, pre-Columbian mythology, and the histories of Texas and Mexico, it blends the story of one Mexican family with the soul of an entire people. Part treasury of the elders, part elegy, part personal odyssey, part Book of the Dead, its tales are of a fragile family lineage that spans borders and rivers and decades.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

More meditation than chronological memoir, this lyrical account of a Mexican American writer's search for himself is rooted in his family's uprootedness, their move in this century from northern Mexico to southern Texas, then from the barrio to the suburbs, and then outward to New York City and across the world. Whether he is talking about the Alamo history he was taught in his San Antonio school (no lessons about the Indians, no mention of the Spanish and the Mexicans who had first built the city), or about his experience as a Rhodes scholar in Oxford, or about his search for the conqueror Cortes ("the grandfather no Mexican wants to admit to"), Santos is always circling back obsessively to his own extended family lore, "an unstoppable carousel of stories," those shared and remembered in garages, kitchens, and backyards, and also those secrets determinedly forgotten. Many Americans will find themselves in the narrative of upheaval and migration; they will recognize the difference between labored nostalgia and heartfelt loss. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

"Mexico was always an empire of forgetting," writes Santos in his elegantly crafted chronicle of one of the thousands of Mexican families who fled to El Norte during the Mexican Revolution. An award-winning documentary television producer for CBS and the first Mexican-American Rhodes Scholar (1979), Santos struggles with the destiny of "every Mexican" to either embrace or lose entirely the "hidden light left behind in the past with los Abuelos" (one's grandparents). In a story told in part by ghosts, Santos takes the reader through the Inframundo, the timeless underworld of the ancient peoples of Mexico, to find out how he came to be the scion of a now-childless family. His tale is inhabited by eclectic charactersÄa clairvoyant albino aunt; a great-grandfather stolen by the Kickapu Indians; an aunt who learned English from the young Lyndon Baines Johnson in exchange for cabbages and potatoes. Then there was Santos's grandfather, Juan Jos‚, whose unresolved death by drowning in 1939 haunts the book. Combining traditional memoir, ancient Mexican history and beliefs, personal sacramental journeys and ghostly interviews, Santos gallops across the desert mountains of Coahuila through a flood of migrating Monarch butterflies, recalls long-ago predawn breakfast rituals in a Mexican village and flies with the Aztec "guardians of time"Äthe Volador dancers at the 1968 HemisFair in San Antonio. His book is one of the most insightful investigations into Mexican-American border culture available. Agent, Janis Valelly, Flaming Star Literary Enterprises; 10-city author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As remembering is to Jews, forgetting is to Mexicans. In a remarkable, bittersweet, and often tragic memoir, Santos, a journalist, television writer and producer, and the first Mexican American Rhodes scholar, attempts to reverse this cultural generalization by reflecting on the early years he spent in San Antonio and Mexico, traveling the paths his family followed between two cultures. Always at the center of tales told by his aunts and uncles is the suicide of his paternal grandfather in 1939. In seeking to unravel the tragedy, Santos carries us through years of cultural mixing in the city that was "an umbilical tether to a past that otherwise seemed to be disintegrating, memory by memory." Much of his story is of poverty, yet rich portrayals of Mex-Tex life also provide a perspective too often forgotten by sociologists, historians, and writers who dwell on acculturation. This is an important book, both as memoir and because it helps us grasp the history of a people who are an integral part of the national identity. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/99.]ÄBoyd Childress, Auburn Univ. Lib., AL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Family Treesp. ix
1 Tierra de Viejitasp. 3
2 Codices de los Abuelosp. 27
3 Valle de Silenciop. 46
Mexico Viejo
4 Cuento Mestizop. 65
5 The Flowered Pathp. 86
6 From Huisache to Cedarp. 104
7 Zona de Nieblap. 121
8 Aztec Theaterp. 139
9 Rain of Stonesp. 162
10 Exiliop. 193
11 La Rutap. 218
12 Una Cancionp. 257
Epiloguep. 275
Tent of Grief: An Afterwordp. 280
Acknowledgmentsp. 283

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