A Review by Olga Sonia Dávila
A Book Review of The Other Island by Jaime Martínez-Tolentino
Reviewer: Olga Sonia Dávila
Australia’s ASJ Publishing Company has just released Jaime Martínez-Tolentino’s memoir The Other Island (Melbourne: ASJ Publishing, 2013) currently available on Amazon.com.
The memoir is highly informative. The author invites the reader to explore, reflect upon, and ultimately understand the circumstances that arise when one comes from humble beginnings, but possesses the essentials to achieve a better life by struggling and acquiring the wisdom of real-life experiences. What is even more remarkable is that the main protagonist achieves all that while facing a physical handicap and having to cope with a family of limited resources and living in a foreign world.
The author provides a wealth of scientific and historical information in a very palatable form on a disability of which we have limited first-hand information today. Polio, which was once the scourge of infancy, is, thankfully, a thing of the past today. Aside from learning about this terrible illness, Martínez-Tolentino’s book allowed me access to the heart of New York City’s “El Barrio” Puerto Rican community of the 1950’s and the 1960’s. The author very cleverly weaves accessible information on polio with vivid descriptions of life in El Barrio to inform the reader of the obstacles he had to face in his youth. He also portrays the problems he was forced to overcome in order to achieve his dreams.
This memoir is also a provocative tale of the author’s relationships with his family and his friends, as well as an exploration of his circumstances, his strengths and his faults. In that, it is, basically, the story of all young people growing up. However, through his vivid descriptions of growing up in a hostile environment, Martínez-Tolentino presents a coming of age story set in the type of neighborhood with which many readers aren’t familiar.
Still, the lessons taught through this immersion in a strange world are quite familiar… and uplifting. I know the author personally, and I can vouch for his many accomplishments, but his memoir reveals how those accomplishments were achieved. His efforts, his desire for a better life and his endurance all paid off, in the end, and they constitute a powerful life lesson for all those facing difficult circumstances.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Other Island, and when I finished it, I still wanted to continue with the author on his journey. I look forward to more such literary adventures from this author who has narrated, once again, the hardships and the joys of all those who have come to this country in search of a better life and have achieved their dreams.
Olga Sonia Dávila is a retired City of Buffalo public school principal.
Jaime Martínez Tolentino is a Puerto Rican writer. At the age of four, Martinez Tolentino contracted polio, which left him crippled. In 1951, he and his family emigrated to New York City where he lived until 1966. He attended New York University where he majored in French and French literature, while also studying Spanish literature and German. As an undergraduate he participated actively in the theater. After earning a B.A. and an M.A in French literature, he returned, briefly, to his native Puerto Rico where he was named French professor at The University of Puerto Rico. Then he left for Europe to pursue further studies.
In France, he studied French at the Sorbonne, and then he relocated to Spain, where he studied both French and Hispanic Literature. He received a Ph.D. in French Literature from the University of Madrid, and then he returned to Puerto Rico. Between 1970 and 1984, Martinez Tolentino taught French at the Mayaguez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico, and he also published three books on French. Also during this period, he published a full-length play, and in 1984, he directed its staged version. One of his short stories was adapted for the stage in Puerto Rico in 1979. In 1980, he published his play La imagen del otro, and three years later, an original collection of short stories of the fantastic.
As he continued publishing in Spanish, his interest in Hispanic literature grew. He began taking graduate courses in Spanish and Puerto Rican literature, and then taught Spanish literature at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, while still also teaching French at the UPR. In 1984, Martinez Tolentino resigned from his position as a French professor. In 1990, he became a Spanish professor at the State University of New York’s College of Buffalo, where he continued writing and producing plays. He retired from teaching in 2002, but not from writing and publishing. For a full history, you can find Jaime on Wikipedia or on his website.
Some of his books can be found on Amazon. For a complete list of his works, click here.
To purchase or view The Other Island, click here.
Thank you, Olga, for that informative review!