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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/10/2006 Archived Entry: "Book Review: Puro Muerto"

Puro Muerto
Published by La Mano Press

Review by Kathryn Ramage

The Day of the Dead, which occurs on November 1-2, is celebrated in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries (and parts of the U.S. with large Hispanic communities); artwork plays a large part in this, featuring images of the dead.

This book is a collection of such artwork, created for the Day of the Dead by various artists--mostly Los Angelenos, according to the foreword in both English and Spanish by editors Artemio Rodriguez (who is also a contributing artist) and Jose Orozco, but the work of the classic "Dead" Mexican broadside artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada.

Beyond the foreword, there is no text, only page after page of colorful and black-and-white illustrations. What I took away from looking through them is that this festival for the dead is not only a memorial for friends and family who have passed on, but a celebration of Life (As a frontispiece illustration by Rodriguez declares: "Life is fragil [sic]: Love it or Leave it.") We see a multitude of images of the Dead as if they were still very much alive and enjoying themselves in the usual party pursuits: drinking and dancing and having a good time. Others are engaged in ordinary, everyday activities. With the holiday's relationship to Halloween*, a few are in Trick-or-Treat costumes. Some of the illustrations, in contrast, have political themes; for example, we see skeletal figures crossing the U.S./Mexican border. While many of the Dead are represented as skeletons; others still have skin on their bones, and death is only indicated by the tell-tale prominent skull-like teeth and dark shadows or hollows around the eyes.

It's a fascinating collection, sometimes humorous, other times touching, and it left me with a much more positive feeling than a book about dead people ought to... which I suspect is the point.

*Halloween is the Eve of All Hallows, i.e., All Saints' Day (November 1) by the Catholic liturgical calendar; All Souls' Day is November 2.

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