"A portrait of someone caught in a liminal space between cultures and identities. It's a rich and soulful memoir about how much gets lost in assimilation, how to sit with unknowability, and how we define our character as we move through the world."
–Emerson Malone, Buzzfeed
("30 Books Coming Out This Spring That You'll Love")
"In this inventive memoir, [Robert Lopez] examines his blurry lineage in short, episodic bursts... Throughout, Lopez is candid and funny, a winning guide through his individual history and a thoughtful examiner of more complicated diasporas. This will resonate with anyone who's ever had to dig through their own past."
(Read the full review of Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere)
"Robert Lopez's Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is a stunningly powerful work of family recollection on his grandfather, Sixto, his immigration to the United States in the 1920s, and the effort to assimilate that nearly erased the family's heritage, culture, and language in just two generations."
–Michael Welch, Chicago Review of Books
"Our 17 Most Anticipated Books of 2023"
"After a host of formally bold works of fiction, Lopez here shifts perspectives, venturing into nonfiction with a trip into his own family's history. Specifically, Lopez chronicles his grandfather's decision to leave Puerto Rico and the impact that had on his family, then and now."
–Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"BOOKS OF THE MONTH: MARCH 2023 EDITION"
"Robert Lopez's family story about cultural erasure has stuck with me for months after my first read. Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is an honest and deep emotional exploration of the author's family history, dating back to his grandfather Sixto's immigration to the United States in the 1920s. Lopez honors the past and imagines his grandfather's history through what he can remember in an effort to re-claim a heritage that has been threatened by assimilation."
–Michael Welch, Chicago Review of Books
"12 Must-Read Books of March 2023"
"These dispatches correct each other, question each other, answer each other, and complete each other. What does Robert Lopez dispatch here? Any easy or romantic notion of kinship, ethnicity, and nationality. This book is an ode to what we don't know about ourselves."
–Eula Biss, author of Having and Being Had, On Immunity, and Notes From No Man's Land
"Armed with little more than a lifetime of questions, one of this country's best sentence-making minds, and the twelfth most popular surname in the United States, Robert Lopez embarks on a journey of self-discovery and winds up with the heart of America in his hands: peculiar, beautiful, inspiring, sad."
–John D'Agata, author of Halls of Fame, About a Mountain, and The Lifespan of a Fact
"A masterpiece clear and honest and alive to the world and its contradictions. Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere will hit you where you live."
–Justin Torres, author of We the Animals
"Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is a deceptively subversive book, full of insights and humor and a level of honest examination (both of racism and of the author himself) that is rare. Lopez writes in distilled bursts, each labelled 'Dispatch from...' (A Better Moment; Something Irretrievable; It's Now or Never, etc), as if he wasn't standing right beside us, murmuring these complicated truths in our ears, but beaming them in from some distant, forgotten past. He carries the weight of this past, yet it does not crush him. Or–thankfully, beautifully–us."
–Nick Flynn, author of This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire, The Ticking is the Bomb, and Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
"Robert Lopez's Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is somewhere between a speculative memoir, a mostly unresolved detective story, and a meditation on learning to play tennis. That it's none and all of these things–and more–is its particular genius. It's the wondering and the wandering, the speculation and the narration, the knowing and the not knowing, the life and the tennis, the death and the tennis, and the quick footwork between them that's so powerful here. As Lopez says after his friend was murdered by the police, 'The trouble with the end of the world is what to do the day after.' What are you going to do? Do what you always do: think, talk, eat too fast, grieve, live, read, write, play tennis."
–Ander Monson, author of The Gnome Stories and I Will Take the Answer
"For many years, Robert Lopez has been among the most singular writers of American fiction; now he turns the unique precision of his voice and his vision toward himself and his family history. Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is a masterful work of nonfiction."
–Matt Bell, author of Appleseed
Praise for Robert Lopez:
"Lopez has the ability to give the reader whiplash with his unconventional and bewitching stories."
–Karolina Waclawiak, author of How to Get into the Twin Palms and The Invaders, on Good People
"Robert Lopez is the master of deadpan dread, of the elliptical koan, of the sudden turn of language that reveals life to be so wonderfully absurd. Always with Lopez, the voice is all his–enchanting, surprising, at times devastating."
–Jess Walter, author of The Cold Millions and Beautiful Ruins
"Robert Lopez is one of the most exciting writers working today."
–Jenny Offill, author of Weather and Dept. of Speculation, on A Better Class of People
"Robert Lopez's strange, incantatory, visionary stories reveal the mysteries behind the ordinary world."
–Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply and Stay Awake
"Nobody else does whatever the hell it is [Lopez]'s doing better than he does."
–Justin Taylor, author of Riding with the Ghost, in BOMB Magazine
"Robert Lopez does amazing things with prose, tone, and sparsity."
–Vol. 1 Brooklyn, on Good People
"For my money, there are few writers who can do voice better than Robert Lopez, and few who can evoke so much of a world in so few words."
–Blake Butler, author of Three Hundred Million
BOOK CLUB & READER GUIDE: Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. As a group, try to define the term "the American Dream." Discuss these ideas in relationship to Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere: do you believe the Lopez family achieved the American Dream? Why or why not? What clues do we have as to how the author feels about this question?
2. In Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere, the author states: "I appreciate what my father did for me and what his father did for both of us. But sacrificing our language and culture, our heritage and history, didn't have to be part of the bargain" (p. 121): do you think it is possible to make gains in a new culture without suffering losses of some kind? Make a list of the pros and the cons of intentionally letting go of one's previous culture when permanently living within a new one.
3. Talk about what it means to be a first-, second-, and third-generation American, using Sixto, Robert's father, and Robert as a case study: how did the three generations' concerns and goals differ? In what ways were they similar to each other? Why might a later-generation American yearn for the family's previous culture that they are aware of but have never experienced?
4. Talk about the American government and Puerto Rico: what recent political discourse related to the island territory is investigated in the book? In what ways might migrating from Puerto Rico to one of the mainland states be similar and different to moving within one of the 50 states? Do you think Puerto Rico benefits from being a territory of the U.S. government?
5. Discuss how a lack of a familial memory is central to Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere: how important do you think generational storytelling is? What would have been different if Sixto Lopez had recorded or recounted his origins for his descendants? As a group, discuss your knowledge of your own family histories and how it has affected you.
6. Of his family, the author says: "All of it dies with me" (p. 198): what does he mean by this? Do you think the concern of his family dying would remain even if he did choose to have children and a new generation of the Lopez family name?
7. Consider the author's paternal grandmother: how would you describe the relationship between grandmother and grandson? What was Lola's relationship like with the rest of the family? Discuss the effect that family dynamics can have on the sharing of family history.
8. In the memoir, the author has largely focused on his paternal lineage, starting as far back as he can go, with his grandfather Sixto Lopez, who left Puerto Rico. But we also learn about the author's Italian maternal lineage, "the culture we indulged in at home" (p. 77), as well as Spanish and Cuban ancestry: Why is the lack of knowledge of his Puerto Rican heritage in sharper focus than the others?
9. In what ways has the author's Puerto Rican heritage affected him in a positive way? In a negative way? How has his level of awareness about this changed throughout his life?
10. The author has only recently started to examine the disconnect he feels to his heritage: what has changed for the author as he's aged? Why do you think the topics of heritage and language have taken on more significance now? What do you believe might have contributed to this awareness being absent in the author's youth?
11. The author is enamored with the game of tennis, which he taught himself to play at middle age: what descriptions are used to depict his tennis playing? Juxtapose the self-teaching of tennis with the possibility of self-teaching the Spanish language: what is different between the two subjects?
12. Throughout the book, the author portrays scenes with his Brooklyn tennis friends: what are these descriptions like? Why do you think the tennis community is so important? Do you think it's fitting that the memoir's cover features a tennis racket?
13. Running throughout the book are descriptions of the author's first experience watching the New York City Puerto Rican Day Parade: what does he do while watching the parade? In what ways is the parade described? What emotions do you think are present during these scenes?
14. The author reflects: "I grew up surrounded by white people and never thought of myself as other... No one ever told me that teachers and coaches and employers and policemen might treat me differently" (p. 7): do you think this decision by the adults in his life was right or wrong? How did the setting of his childhood affect his self-identity later in life?
15. Discuss the author's relationship with term "spic" and how it changed over time.
16. What was it like for the author to be raised on Long Island, both during childhood and as an adult thinking back on that period? What do you make of his decision to settle in Brooklyn in adulthood, back to where his parents had intentionally moved him and his sister away from? As a group, share whether or not you feel a disconnect now to the place in which you were raised, and the reasons why.
17. When the author says: "I think about language and history and people who can speak a language that for me should've been a birthright" (p. 184), what connection can be made between being able to speak a language and feeling a sense of belonging? As a group, share any similar experience you or your family has had on the topic of language and belonging.
18. What effect might it have on someone to repeatedly have experiences like this one with strangers, based solely on appearance: "I can't count how many times someone has spoken Spanish to me and I've had to say, I'm sorry, I don't speak Spanish" (p. 95). What do you believe are the origins of the author's expectation that he ought to be able to speak Spanish in addition to English?
19. When the author recounts working in restaurants, how would you characterize his relationships with his coworkers? How do you think these experiences affected him?
20. Of another passenger on an airplane trip, the author concludes: "Maybe she isn't Puerto Rican or maybe she's Puerto Rican like I am" (p. 194): what does he mean by this? Do you think he feels like he is being equally observed?
21. Various surveys are pointed to discuss how Americans feel about identity: do you believe language ability is mandatory for inclusion in a cultural identity? What do you think is important in order for a person to feel they belong? Discuss the term "LINO" that is used in the book: what does it mean, and how does the author feel about it? Do you think that it is possible to be Latino–or any other identity–in name only?
22. During a university opportunity as a guest writer that brings the author to Utah, a fellow attendee repeatedly refers to him as "Roberto" instead of his name, Robert. Why do you think he did not correct this mistake?
23. Talk about diversity in higher education faculty and programming: if you aren't part of academia yourself, what conclusions do you draw from the author's experiences? If you do have personal insight, were his experiences in line with what you already believed, or different?
24. The author, in his role as a college professor, describes utilizing a famous Milosz quote with his students "to give them license to let it fly, to destroy themselves and their families" (p. 18): what do you think this means? What purpose does this objective serve? Do you think that Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere achieves this goal?
25. Talk about the idea of inheritance–that which is passed down from one generation to the next, whether material or genetic: what health concerns does the author have? What else about inheritance is explored in the memoir?
Robert Lopez is the author of three novels, Part of the World, Kamby Bolongo Mean River, named one of 25 important books of the decade by HTML Giant, and All Back Full; two story collections, Asunder and Good People, and a novel-in-stories titled A Better Class of People. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has appeared in dozens of publications, including Bomb, The Threepenny Review, Vice Magazine, New England Review, The Sun, and the Norton Anthology of Sudden Fiction - Latino. He teaches at Stony Brook University and has previously taught at Columbia University, The New School, Pratt Institute, and Syracuse University. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Visit his website here: robertlopez.net
Visit the Two Dollar Radio Robert Lopez author page for additional details and interviews.