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The Fifth Sun [Paperback]

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Item description for The Fifth Sun by Mary Helen Lagasse...

The Fifth Sun is a story of an immigrant who struggles valiantly for a better life for herself and her family. The young Mexican woman, Mercedes, leaves her village to work as a maid in New Orleans. This novel takes her through her adventures in New Orleans, her marriage, her struggle to raise her children, her deportation, and her attempt to re-cross the river and be united with her children.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   360
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 5.5" Height: 8.5"
Weight:   0.96 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 1, 2004
Publisher   Curbstone Press
ISBN  1931896054  
ISBN13  9781931896054  

Availability  0 units.

More About Mary Helen Lagasse

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! A native of New Orleans. Mary Helen Lagasse was born in the U.S. of Latino heritage and has taught English and Spanish at private schools. Her stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including the New Orleans Times Picayune, Gambit, and New Orleans Magazine

Mary Helen Lagasse currently resides in New Orleans, in the state of Louisiana.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Europe > General
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Books & Reading > Women Writers & Feminist Theory
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4Books > Subjects > Mystery & Thrillers > Thrillers > Psychological & Suspense
5Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Womens Studies > Women Writers

Reviews - What do customers think about The Fifth Sun?

A really good tale  Apr 22, 2008
This novel is about Mercedes Vasconcelos, a young Mexican woman convinced that the road to a better life for her and her growing family passes through the United States.

Set in the early 20th century, Mercedes is used to poverty while growing up in Mexico. Armed with a name and address, she takes a boat to New Orleans, to make a better life for herself. Around this time, she has a child out of wedlock, and is told, in effect, don't come home.

Life is hard in 1930s New Orleans, but Mercedes becomes a housekeeper at a local rooming house, and she manages (sometimes just barely). She meets Manuela Maldonado, an older woman from the same part of Mexico. Manuela is a strong, proud woman who becomes a sort-of substitute mother to Mercedes.

When the housekeeping job ends, Mercedes and Manuela cook various food items, like tamales, and sell them door-to-door. Mercedes marries Jesus, who changes his name to Jesse, and has several sons. One of them is born with severe digestive problems, and doesn't live very long.

The family is sent back to Mexico. Letters from Manuela assure Mercedes and Jesus that their three boys will have no problem returning to New Orleans, and can stay with her (they were born in America). Through a bureaucratic snafu, Mercedes and Jesus are not allowed to join them. The reason is the concern that Mercedes and Jesus will immediately go on welfare, despite the total lack of evidence that the two ever used welfare in the past. After months and months of separation, a very pregnant Mercedes enlists a coyote to take her across the Rio Grande River.

This story of the Mexican immigrant experience is a quiet tale from a native of New Orleans, but a really good tale and is well worth reading.

Very good literature  Oct 23, 2007
THE FIFTH SUN is an excellent contribution to the common history that New Orleans and Mexico tend to have. Mary Helen Lagasse, who is one of my friends from Tulane days, has done an excellent job in describing the plight that refugees have to go through. In addition, she is making a contribution to the understanding of single mothers in very difficult circumstances. Fortunately, I know enough Spanish to be able to read the Spanish words in her text. The plot of the story takes place in the late 20's and early 30's; still, it applies to today's world as well, especially to the issue of Hispanics and the United States. Also, Mary Helen did an excellent job in inflecting the scene in Mexico and New Orleans at that time, as I can tell from my knowledge of the history of New Orleans and Mexico.
Stop reading after the first 2/3 of the book  Apr 25, 2006
This book begins with much promise. It was so good, that the writing even reminded me of something like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez epic novel. However, the writer should've quit while she was ahead. In the end, she takes the book to far in the direction of melodrama and fantastical mush which doesn't really blend with the genre and style she first presents to us. Read it, but stop before you get to the last 50 pages.
The Modern Heroine  Jan 10, 2005
An inspiration to any woman who faces obstacles she feels are insurmountable, Mary Helen Lagasse provides us with a character unforgettable in her tenacity and inventiveness. Mercedes manages to hold together a life that is sure to fly apart at the seams at any moment: she is faced with issues that would engender defeat in many people faced with the same or similar predicaments. She does not settle for the statement, "There is nothing that can be done." If something can be done, she finds it, she does it, and does it well.

Like life, the story is part bittersweet, part heartbreaking and breathtaking in its scope and subject matter. The writing matches the tone, and there are many passages that are absolutely exquisite in both craft and imagery:

"She awoke with a start, her head pulsing, remembering the alkaline taste of the medicine riding the yellow bloat of her seasickness, the deck of the ship heaving and falling away-all things governed by the undulations of the sea." (p. 165)

This passage could serve as shorthand for the whole of the book: Mercedes wakes to find herself somewhere, in some state--internal or external--she didn't wholly expect. But, like a true heroine she takes on whatever task befalls her. Nothing is so daunting that is holds her back from her objective. Only rarely do we have glimpses of Mercedes worn out, wishing things were better. She does not wish things were better: she makes them better. She sets the path and the tone for her life and does not wait for it to be assigned to her, not by a man (her father or her husband), not by society (the police, the nuns, the shopkeeper, her landlady), not by anything but her sense of what needs to happen.

Even the small touches are notable: the name and description of the coyote, for instance, Aguilar. Eagle, unless my Spanish fails me. The book is littered throughout with references and allusions that this reader thoroughly enjoys.

Wonderfully written and detailed, I hope we see more work from this author in future--and soon!

Disappointed  Dec 28, 2004
This review is for the Curbstone Press first edition published in 2004, 336 pages. THE FIFTH SUN won the third annual Mámol Prize, which Curbstone Press awards for a first work of fiction in English by a Latina/o writer. The winner of the award receives a $1000 advance against royalties and Curbstone publishes the book. The book reviewed, purchased from this site in the fall of 2004, has "Advanced Review Copy" printed on the cover.

THE FIFTH SUN is the story of Mercedes, a poor Mexican girl. Early in 1930, the Villalobos, a wealthy Mexican family, bring Mercedes to New Orleans, ostensively as a companion for their daughters. On 10 December 1930 (page 40), Mercedes composes a letter to her friends in Mexico, which includes the phrase "In the year since I have been in Nuevo Orleans..." Soon afterwards, Mercedes quits the Villalobos to work at the Mayfair Guest House, where one of the boarders seduces, impregnates and abandons her. The baby, Nicolás, is born on 29 October 1930, "nine months to the hour after he had been conceived..." (page 59). The chapter titles in THE FIFTH SUN include the year of the narrative present, but several are obvious errors. Within the narrative, there are more distracting inconsistencies in the timeline.

Mercedes struggles to survive the Depression, marries, and has two more sons. In 1936, her husband sends her back to Mexico with the children. In chapter sixteen, at page 171, when the author begins to describe Mercedes' miserable life in Mexico, I gave up.

THE FIFTH SUN uses the omniscient point of view. Within the first eighteen pages, the POV hops from Josefina to Mercedes to Trinidad back to Josefina then Mercedes to Blanco Villalobos to Garcia back to Mercedes. The brief cockfight scene in chapter two gives the POV of both birds. The characters in THE FIFTH SUN fight one another for voice and none, not even Mercedes, wins the melee; I did not sympathize with or despise anyone.

There are 85 named characters in the first half of this novel, and the reader struggles to figure out which ones are important. In a vignette, Manuela buys fish from Ettie Leonard and her twin boys Casper and Jasper, and the reader knows that Ettie's husband is Maynard, although Manuela never learns any of these names. Connie Fasbinder has a minor role, but Calvin and Thelma, her father and mother, are just names. Gottlieb, Joiner and Todd are boarders at the Lichtestein boarding house, each with a distinctive smell, which enables Chrispin, the near blind dog, to distinguish them. Chrispin is also a POV character. Inundated by names and points of view, I drowned.

The author litters THE FIFTH SUN with Spanish words and expressions without italics. Although I am reasonably fluent in Spanish, I found that the constant use of foreign words deprives the writing of rhythm and style. The last sentence I read contained the words "curandera," "mal de ojo," "susto" and "empacho." I pity the non-Spanish speaking readers.

I had hopes for this award-winning story in a genre that interests me, but it disappointed.

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