The Family Saga of a Bilingual Novelist Explores the Lure and Threat of ‘LA Weather’ | Entertainment

LOS ANGELES – When author María Amparo Escandón moved from Los Angeles to New York in 2014, she often heard New Yorkers say that LA has no time.

“What do you mean, there’s no time in LA ?!” she exclaimed, before countering with the Santa Ana winds, the fires, the drought and – yes – the rain. “It’s not always 72 hours and the weather is nice.

Looking at LA from 2,800 miles away, Escandón had an eye-opening. “It’s actually a city so dependent on the weather,” she recalls on a recent afternoon at her Brentwood home. “Think about how many people immigrate to LA because of this. Once they get here they realize that you have to take three minute showers and you probably shouldn’t water the lawn. “

The fuse has been lit for Escandon’s third novel. “LA Weather” follows the Alvarados, a wealthy Mexican-American family grappling with secrets, betrayals, close appeals with death, and climatic disasters.

Set at the end of one of the driest periods on record in California, the story takes place in the 2016 calendar year. All of the weather events in the book – every fire, rain, and full moon – happened. actually produced. Except one: “Towards the end there is a rain that was not,” she laughs. “I really needed it to rain that day.”

Clearly, there is drama – a lot. “I think the telenovela narrative is so ingrained in my head that everything I write comes out like a telenovela,” she said. But at its core, the book is an ode to the adopted hometown with which she has had an intermittent passionate relationship for nearly 40 years.

“LA is a high risk, high reward place, which makes it a perfect backdrop for its characters,” said Betsy Amster, Escandon’s literary agent. “I love his ability – or his determination – to find humor in the risks of life,” she added.

Like the Alvarados and many Angelenos, Escandón lives in an interface between wilderness and the city – a transition zone in which the wilderness and the built environment collide. “It is the most dangerous area when there is a fire because it is not the mountain that is burning, it is the houses that are burning. It is the people who evacuate,” she said. But when it’s not on fire, it’s beautiful and serene.

Oscar, the patriarch of the Alvarado family, plagued by recurring nightmares of burning houses, describes the area as a place “where your surveillance camera can spot a puma roaming your yard while you sleep … where you could. discover a deer and his fawn a few meters from the eight-lane 405 highway “, a place” both awesome and terrifying “.

Like her characters, Escandón was evacuated from her home. The first time was the Skirball fire in 2017, the day she returned from her four-year stay in New York City. (“A bit of a welcome!” She said.)

The second was the Getty Fire two years later. She pulls out her phone and finds a photo taken from her dining room window at 2:46 a.m. that day in October 2019, just before running away with her two cats and a visiting friend from Brazil. A giant plume of neon orange smoke rises just across the 405. The wind changed direction that night and the light did not jump the freeway. She was lucky.

She knows it won’t be the last time she has to flee.

Urban and rural life have always been intertwined for Escandón. She was born into a family of breeders in Mexico City. Her father, Julio, had a raspberry farm, and she spent her youth riding horses, perpetually covered with earth. She was 7 when she told a hurtful lie; this is also when she started to write.

She tells the story as follows: María accuses the nanny of pinching her arm and shows her mother a bruise to prove it. Furious, her mother fires the nanny. Guilty, the young girl admits: The bruise was due to a vaccination. She is grounded and her grandmother explains to her the difference between lying and storytelling. She gives María a notebook, which the girl spends so much time writing that she fails in second grade.

At 13, Escandón spent a year on a pig farm in Minnesota to learn English. Years later, she would take a creative writing course at UCLA Extension and become a bilingual writer. (She published her first two novels, “Esperanza’s Box of Saints” and “Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Co.”, in English and translated them into Spanish.)

At 23, she moved from Mexico to Los Angeles – not for time but for love. She and her then-boyfriend lived in a small room inside their friend’s pornographic theater in Pico-Union, surviving food stalls and trying to start a Spanish ad agency “with no money, no money. customers, no credit, no office “.

“Do you know when you’re very young and you don’t know that you can’t do something and therefore you do it?” she asked. “It was ignorance, a little arrogance, a little ‘Yeah, why not?'”

But the American city quickly established itself in it: its constantly evolving gastronomy, its culture and its “fantastic” climate, its “fabulous expressions of architecture”. Many of his passions are reflected in the Alvarado family. Sisters Claudia, Olivia and Patricia are respectively a professional cook, an architect (who feels guilty for encouraging gentrification) and a social media guru. Keila, the matriarch, is a ceramicist, another passion of Escandon.

Oscar, still absorbed in his thoughts, channels Escandon’s fascinations with LA Walking down a street in Pacoima on a hot August morning, he ruminates on the “hundreds of cities” contained in one.

“People who knew little about LA imagined that everyone was walking around with a script soaked in sweat in their armpits,” Oscar thinks. “It was the birthplace of Hollywood, after all. But in truth, Los Angeles was what you wanted it to be, and that was thanks to the constant influx of immigrants arriving with their dreams …”

Alex Espinoza, a writing professor at UC Riverside, was struck by Escandon’s ability to write about LA with nuance.

“She knows the complexity of neighborhoods, their terrain, but also their ethnic makeup,” he said, and she “complicates our view of Latinos. She understands that the Latino experience is complex and difficult to categorize.”

Escandón is currently busy “transcreating” LA Weather “into Spanish. Self-translation is a challenge and requires self-control. “I can’t do a literal translation because I get carried away.”

Writing her novels in her second language was one way, she says, of practicing writing in English. This time, she thinks she has mastered it. “With ‘LA Weather’, I feel like I have finally come home” in English, she said.

She also became aware of the precariousness of her home. Between his first and third novels – as heat waves became more frequent, droughts more prolonged and forest fires more deadly – Escandón realized “that this is a new reality: we are going to live with wildfires in the state of california ”.

But like the Alvarados, it has adapted to it. “It’s there in the background all the time.” In LA, it’s just the weather.

© 2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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