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Edwin Fontanez
One Last Song for My Father

Adult; Memoir; (Market)

Through heartfelt essays and poetry, Latino children’s book author and illustrator Edwin Fontánez examines his relationship with his father from childhood to adulthood. Drawing from his personal journals, the author recounts a rural childhood in Puerto Rico filled with joyous moments as well as chaos caused by his father’s alcoholism and gambling. As an artistic young gay man, he searched for connection with his often remote father while dealing with the stresses of growing up in a machista Hispanic culture. After leaving the island in his twenties to pursue a career on the mainland, he began to forge an identity independent of his upbringing while still trying to retain his cultural roots. When his father was diagnosed with senile dementia at age 76, a 16-year-long journey began to try to understand his father’s life from an adult perspective. Through conversations with family members, a picture emerged of his father as an energetic, independent man who was a talented craftsman and an eager (if not so talented) musician. Even through his long mental illness, music was the one thing that kept his father’s spirit alive. Stories of colorful neighborhood characters, the humiliations of poverty, family dynamics, and lush descriptions of the island’s topography paint a vivid picture of life on the island. Enhanced by artwork and family photos by the author, One Last Song for My Father is a memoir filled with humor, empathy, love, and ultimately healing.
In this passionate memoir, children’s author and illustrator Edwin Fontánez (The Illuminated Forest) paints a moving portrait of a father-son bond that endures restrictive cultural mores and the devastating effects of senile dementia. Growing up in Cataño and Palos Blancos, Puerto Rico, Fontánez struggles to come to terms with the two contradictory aspects of his father’s personality: the jovial, party-going music lover and the inebriated man with whom his mother is forced to beg for money to pay the grocery bill. These two opposing halves elicit ambivalence in Fontánez, who delves into his buried animosity alongside feelings of guilt at “abandoning” his parents to follow his artistic talents on the faraway U.S. mainland.

The elder Fontánez comes across as a stereotypical man of his times—hardworking and reserved at home, while unable (or unwilling) to express affection for his son. The lack of emotional connection between the two affects Fontánez’s self-esteem, as he doubts his father’s love and resents his excessive drinking and shabby treatment of his mother. Intriguingly, Fontánez also explores how outdated ideas of masculinity may have played a role in his own development as an adult man as well as in his paternal relationship.

Fontánez accentuates the complexities and layered nuances of the father-son bond, and the narrative is enhanced by his love for family and for his hometown. His poetic prose pulls readers into the verdant landscape of rural Puerto Rico, peopled with honest, hardworking folk, and included photographs offer a more intimate glimpse into Fontánez’s story. The episodic, non-linear structure of the book brings the characters—his parents, grandparents, aunt, and sister—into sharp relief, and Fontánez excels at evoking the slower and more fulfilling tempo of rural life in this impressive offering.

Takeaway: A moving, evocative memoir that highlights father-son dynamics.

Great for fans of: And When Did You Last See Your Father? by Blake Morrison, Father and Son by Edmund Gosse.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A