Mariam Adamjee/ The Paisano
On Sept. 24, author Michael Nava met UTSA students in the UC Pecan room for a reading from his recent book, “The City of Palaces.”
Published in April 2014, this historical fiction novel focuses on the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and tells the tale of the experiences Mexicans encountered during the transition from a cruel dictatorship to a military-controlled regime.
Born in Sacramento, Calif., Nava is part of the third generation of descendants who immigrated from Mexico. He began writing at age 12 and was exclusively interested in poetry until his early twenties. From 1986 to 2000, he wrote and published a crime-novel series featuring gay Latino protagonist Henry Rios.
“I wrote these crime novels because I wanted to explore the experience of being a gay man in the contemporary world, and by the time I reached the seventh one, I sort of finished that [exploration]. Then, I got much more interested in the Mexican part of my heritage. I wanted to understand not just where I came from in a personal sense, but I wanted to understand something about Mexico– about where we all came from, because many of our ancestors came [to the United States] during the revolution,” Nava said.
Nava was motivated to write a historical novel that was accessible to Anglo-Americans who might know little about their Mexican neighbors, and the Chicanos who are generations removed from their ancestral country.
“It’s about politics and justice and people who sacrifice their lives to try to achieve something better,” he commented.
“The City of Palaces” is written from the perspective of an upper-class family living in Mexico City at the time of the revolution. The novel includes how the period’s political turbulence affected the family and its involvement in the revolution.
Nava did not simply want to write a historical survey of the event. He feels that writing about the personal experiences of individuals involved in history humanized it.
Attending to his law practice by day, Nava routinely sets time aside for his writing. Producing his latest book entailed years of research on the revolution and the lives of those entangled in it.
While his way of writing is structured, he added, “Creation of any kind of art, whether it’s a painting or a book, [is] not really intellectual … I don’t think out every word. I just prepare the ground, and then what happens happens.”
Nava’s motivation, throughout his work in both law and literature is to represent the lives of marginalized people.
“I think what I’m trying to do in these books is just to present an alternative view of a little part of history through the eyes of outsiders. Someone said that history is written by the victorious, and I’m trying to turn that on its head and write history from those who are the oppressed and the defeated–because it’s a very different view,” Nava said.