Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Texas Christian University Press
Date of Publication: September 24, 201 — 278 pages
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The year is 1961. Seventy-year-old Cosimo Infante Cano, a Cuban-born artist in need of inspiration, follows his lover to Texas in what was to be a temporary sabbatical from their life in France. Unexpectedly, he finds himself stranded in San Antonio, nearly penniless, with little more than the clothes on his back and an extraordinary pocket watch. His long hair and eccentric attire make him an odd sight in what he has been told is a conservative cultural backwater.
Cosimo’s French and Cuban passports put a cloud of suspicion over him as events elsewhere in the world play out. Algeria is in open revolt against France. Freedom Riders are being assaulted in Mississippi, and the Bay of Pigs debacle is front-page news. Cosimo confronts nightmares and waking terrors rooted in the horror he experienced during the Great War of 1914–1918. His friends—students, librarians, shopkeepers, laborers, lawyers, bankers, and even a parrot—coalesce around this elderly French artist as he attempts to return to what remains of his shattered life.
His new friends feel empathy for his impoverished condition, but his unconventional actions and uncompromising ethics confuse them. He creates charming drawings he refuses to sell and paints a house simply for the pleasure of making a difference. In the process he forever alters the lives of those who thought they were helping him.
PRAISE FOR THE BOOK
“A pitch-perfect picaresque tale” –John Phillip Santos, Texas Monthly
“Judge this book by its cover. It’s a stunning… captivating read.” –Alice Embree, Rag Radio Blog
An “elegantly conceived tale–boasting a culturally and historically astute plot–that demands to be read.” –Kirkus Reviews
Right away the reader knows that this is going to be an unusual story with characters that live up to the title of Odd Birds. We meet Cosimo as he’s walking along the river in San Antonio bereft at losing his lover, Sarah, and also distraught because his luggage and most of his money had been stolen. And now, here he is on the brink of homelessness in a strange and different country.
Then he goes into the library where the bigoted Ruthann hurries to shoo this man in unusual clothes, and skin a bit darker than she likes, out of her library – a place she learns a little while later isn’t hers at all. She rails against the new policy of integration, refusing to assist the “coloreds” in signing up for library cards and insulting a young child. She dislikes these new Pages the director hired without consulting her – Richard, Oscar, and Maddie.
The lives of all these characters, as well as the minor ones, intertwine in significant and special ways, making them all richer in the end. Not monetarily, but in richness of the soul. Cosimo uses his artistic talents, and his spirit of generosity, to help the people he meets at a small diner, at the cabins where he lives for a while, as well as the three young Pages who are uncertain about their future.
When explaining to the young peopIe how photos of his paintings made it into a prominent book about art, Cosimo says, “I was very young and naïve. There was a show in the art district, and a man named Walt Kuhn selected several of my paintings for consideration for a show in New York. I did not think much about it. The art world lives on schemes that never transpire.” I had to chuckle at that because almost any creative endeavor revolves around schemes that don’t often come to fruition, but we keep on keeping on, which is what Cosimo does.
There is much to love about this story, and I highly recommend it.
SEVERO PEREZ, an award-winning filmmaker, playwright, and writer, grew up in working-class Westside San Antonio and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. For over forty-five years he produced programing for PBS and for network and cable television. His feature film adaptation of Tomas Rivera’s novel . . . and the earth did not swallow him (1994) won eleven international awards, including five for Best Picture. His first novel, Willa Brown & the Challengers (2012), is historical fiction based on the real-life African American aviation pioneer Willa Beatrice Brown. Odd Birds is his second novel. Learn more on his website.
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TWO WINNERS: Autographed copies of Odd Birds.
(US only. Ends 4/8/2022)
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