ILLUSIONS OF MEMORY
Illusions of Memory is Marc Zimmerman's series of autofiction (related life-based stories, dreams and fantasies organized into novel-like structures) touching on Jewish, Italian American, but above all Mexican/Chicano, Central American and Puerto Rican themes. Books are grouped in the chronological order, or cycle, of the events related in them. Two more books are scheduled for publication this year.
Read Marc's essay "Why I Write What I Write"
"Zimmerman demonstrates his notable gifts as a writer of fictional memoir keenly sensitive to the vital socio-cultural nuances and ethno-communal borders his stories cross, explore, and illuminate."
Roberto Márquez, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, Mount Holyoke College.
"Zimmerman’s work includes some stories that are …[among] the best that literature can offer.”
Antonio Zavala, journalist and author of Pale Yellow Moon.
"Zimmerman’s ‘Illusions of Memory’ series is a sprawling mix of memoir, diary, Bildungsroman, travelogue and short story collection that he has been piecing together over the past several years. U.S. post-war conservatism, the radical 60s and 70s, the restoration of the 80s and changes further on are all portrayed against the backdrop of three marriages and moves from east to west, from Mexican borderlands toward Nicaragua and beyond—to Europe, Minnesota, Chicago, and Puerto Rico. The quotidian and world-historical come together in ways that recall Rousseau’s Confessions, but with a jazzier, more dissonant vibe. I know of nothing like it in contemporary American fiction."
John Beverley, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, U. of Pittsburgh, author of Against Literature and Subalternity and Representation.
Cycle I (1939-2017)
Read Antonio Zavala's overview of Marc Zimmerman's autofiction.
The Short of it All (1940s-2017)
Dreams and Scenes of Memoir Fiction
With a gentle tip of his hat to Kafka, Marc Zimmerman presents brief dreams and dreamlike scenes that have emerged in the author's pursuit of memoir fiction over the past several years. Some perhaps at least seem to be trivial, while others are clearly more; but all of them, taken together, achieve an elusive but ultimate depth. Spanning the years from his boyhood memories to the years following his retirement, the stories illuminate a life as a Jewish-American and a human being.
Read more about The Short of it All at The California Aggie.
Also available in the Spanish language edition Cuán alta la luna
Read Ángel G. Quintero Rivera's review of the Spanish language edition at 80grados.
Stores of Winter (1940s-1960s)
Three stories of childhood and a Jewish-American tragic-comedy framed by two stories of not-so-innocents abroad in the 1960s: These are winter tales stored, life moments storied, fictions sometimes lived, from the darkness through his own looking glass sometimes darkly, by a critic-theorist who began as a playwright and narrator, who always sought heat and light, and who has now decided to bring forth illuminations of his fragmented and obscured imaginary - these tales of winter discontent from the near tail end of his winter years.
The Italian Daze (1950s-2018)
Notes of a Lost Traveler
The Italian American and Italian connections of a Jewish American in the course of his wandering life. The book opens with a catalog of Italian foods, cultural actors, heroes and villains, etc., culminating with a litany of Italian and Jewish Americans. Next come four parts reviewing early loves, travels with an Italian American wife, and subsequent encounters. Depicting key Italian locales, the book includes some of the most acute Italian paradoxes, including Fascism, the Holocaust, the mafia, possible afro-phobia, and recent turns in Italian politics. A final coda portrays additional Italian encounters, a series of public demonstrations, and our aging hero’s final dream of being lost and dazed in the maze that is Rome and Italy.
“A haunting, yet comic procession of Italians …pursued in every direction, … [but] never found.” Enrico De Vivo, Italian critic, in L’Indice dei LIbri
Reviewed by Fred Gardaphe at ytali.com.
Lines on the Border (1961-1972)
Somewhere between short story collection and novel, this book portrays the evolution of Ben, a young and confused Jewish-American, through his interactions with friends, lovers, and others on and beyond the San Diego-Tijuana crossing point. Failed romances, journeys south, moments of sexual and colonial exploitation, and repeated errors tell of an uneven search for genuine contact and understanding. Written with humor, irony and a feel for border pain, Lines on the Border is a gift for both fiction lovers and those interested in Mexican border themes long before the current deportation raids and cries of "Build the wall".
Read a review by Marta E. Sanchez, Professor Emeritus, U. of California, San Diego.
Key stories from Lines on the Border now available in this Spanish language edition.
“Una especie de bildungsroman judío-estadounidense, ambientado en el sur de California. Sobre amoríos fallidos, estas historias también capturan un momento de transición en la historia y la cultura de los EE.UU. La frontera es una zona de división, pero también la conexión entre lo anglo y lo latino; Estados Unidos y México (y el Tercer Mundo); los años sesenta radicales comenzando a decaer y los setenta que surgen justo en el horizonte." John Beverley, Distinguido Profesor Emeritus, U. of Pittsburgh, autor de Against Literature and Subalternity and Representation.
“Todos somos imperfectos y vulnerables; es parte de nuestra humanidad. Con el transcurrir de los años ..., cuando la superación de múltiples experiencias atravesadas deberían habernos endurecido la piel, las limitaciones y la humana siempre vulnerabilidad se tornan, sin embargo, más evidentes y presentes. Asumirlas sin ambages es uno de los méritos indiscutibles de ésta obra de memoria ficción." Ángel Quintero Rivera, Profesor, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto Río Piedras. Autor de Salsa, sabor y control y Cuerpo y cultura.
La Dolce Vita on the Northern Side (1966-1972)
In this final book of his Border Trilogy, Marc Zimmerman shows his protagonist exploring his city as he seeks connections in the midst of growing civil rights and anti-war struggles. Ben’s first worlds are Jewish-, Italian-, and then Afro-American before they become ever more Mexican, Latino/a, and Latin American as he visits theaters, concert and lecture halls, community centers, jazz and dance, happy hour, night and after-hour clubs, the piano bars, the pickup spots and
picket lines, the bar, house and other party sites—all the settings which he and others can enjoy on and off stage, as they live the“sweet life” of their time.
"This fine collection projects a journey of personal changes occurring to many during and beyond a crucial time and place in the U.S. and wider world. An impressive achievement—and great read!" - Roberto Márquez, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, Mount Holyoke College
Sandino on the Border (1969-1981)
A Nicaraguan doctor steals his son across the border leaving his estranged wife and his son’s traumatized half-brother to fend for themselves until they meet up with Mel, a Jewish American who joins their struggle to win back the lost boy even as they pursue their new lives.
Book One traces Mel’s growing immersion in Lena’s fight for her lost son even as he becomes father to the boy left behind—a story that takes them to Nicaragua twice, as they become involved with the Sandinista movement and the Revolution. Book Two tells of Lena’s family—an uncle who coordinates Sandinista-related border crossings; a mother who smuggles underwear into Mexico City; an aunt who tries to keep her son’s family together in L.A.; a son who moves from the Californias to Minnesota; a grandmother who marvels at the world she beholds when she is taken across the border.
All this in the shadow of César Augusto Sandino, Nicaragua’s national hero, who hovers over an entire family, in a story roaming from Baja and Southern California to Minneapolis, Chicago, Mexico City, and Managua during a period of cold war and social upheaval.
With Carlos Barberena’s haunting prints, Sandino on the Border presents an untold story of the Americas and border life. The book’s multi-voiced narrative recalls Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and the epilogue evokes works by John Keats, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway in a text that also relates to more recent discursive modes and transnational relations. This new edition portrays the Sandinista Revolution’s early days and hints at the problems discussed in a striking final note on the Ortega-Murrillo regime.
Also available in the Spanish language edition
Sandino en la frontera
“Historias que cruzan las fronteras entre Estados Unidos, México y Nicaragua... [historias que narran] la vida de Mel, Lena, su hijo Silvio y la de Dino, hijo de Lena de un matrimonio anterior, Dino. La acción es un “tira y jala” entre personajes que pretenden mantener una vida familiar pese a los muchos desafíos que enfrentan. Lena intenta rescatar a Dino, luego de que su ex esposo, Rolando, lo secuestra y lo lleva a vivir a Nicaragua; Lena y Mel no se ponen de acuerdo cuando ella decide continuar con su carrera universitaria... lo que dificulta que Mel siga con su trabajo. Intervienen la lucha política y la revolución; termina con la derrota de todos sus planes y esperanzas. Zimmerman tiene buen ojo para lo trágico y lo dramático. Las historias se cuentan con diferentes voces... por ende, aprendemos y empatizamos con [los] personajes mientras ellos, con voz propia, relatan sus historias...” Antonio Zavala, Periodista y Autor de Pale Yellow Moon.
"Sobre esta traducción y el libro traducido - Traducir una voz que acude a la memoria implica hacer tuyo el recuerdo. Darle voces a la historia vivida, sobre todo, narrar desde el ojo que sentimos lastimar, narrar como remedio, así es esta entrega literaria de Marc Zimmerman. Sin lugar a dudas un acto valiente que merece nuestra lectura y nuestro aplauso, donde el autor explora (desde la memoria) la imperfección del ensueño ideológico y personal. Queda demostrado que narrarnos es también cruzar un límite caótico y fronterizo sobre lo que fue, y lo que esperamos haber sido. Dicen que la historia la escriben quienes ganan, imperios y demás. En este caso, pese a que “la memoria” como subgénero literario sugiere ser una obra de no ficción, el autor nos advierte que no suspendamos la incredulidad; por cierto, las llama “ficciones (o ilusiones) de la memoria”. Esta manera de definir su trabajo literario nos invita a cuestionar qué historia escrita no está exenta de ficción y por qué se decide decorar la historia. Por otro lado, si bien la literatura nos salva, ¿Cuán dispuesta está nuestra memoria a perder por segunda vez cuando es ella quien narra? ¿Por qué no remediar lo que debo? No obstante, traducir a Marc Zimmerman, hasta cierto punto, es abrir una herida, esa que persigue a quienes cruzan la frontera, más aún cuando se está al filo de una revolución." Marisabel Martín Córdova, escritora y traductora puertorriqueña de Sandino on the Border.
A Mexican Maze Without Borders (1967-2022)
Stories from California, Minnesota, Houston, but above all Chicago and Mexico
From the Borderlands to Minneapolis, from Mexico City to Chicago, Houston, and other points north and south, this book tells stories of Zimmerman’s vulnerable, at times reckless and feckless protagonist Mel, toward the end and in the aftermath of his second marriage and on into his third, as he meets Mexicans, Chicanos and others—women, men, LGBTQ people—who enrich his knowledge of Mexican worlds that mark an amazing borderless maze—a labyrinth sin fronteras. Two Chicano writers who come and go, a Chicano ex-con and maybe mafioso who has to go, five or six Minnesota Marías, a French-Mexican/Jewish mis-alliance, predatory moves through Baja, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Jalisco and Acapulco, a Mexico City love affair marred by personal weakness and economic collapse, his many ways to lose Chicago mexicanas and Chicanas, plus his meeting with a Mexican Molly Bloomish transgender woman who goes from whoring, drinking and drugging to the brink of blissful, monogamous and motorcycling marriage—all this and much more in a book capped off by a "night of the dead in a Michoacán cemetery. So goes the maze mapped out herein. From 1967 to 2022.
Forthcoming Collections on
Cycle II: 1939-1981
Seeds of Being in the Early Years of a Jersey Jewish American
A portrait of a would-be artist as a young middle-class Jewish American living in the Newark/Elizabeth shadows of New York—his first memories, his summer and school days, his family, friends, and early loves, along with the impact of Holocaust, Cold War, and McCarthyism, the Rosenberg Case, and the founding of Israel. Mel’s loss of God and community, his awakening to jazz and writing, to African, Italian, and other “Americans” around him all emerge as the book evokes memory’s magic moments and the seeds they plant in our lives.
Read the review at onlinebookclub.org.
"In Genesis, Marc Zimmerman, born in Newark and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, presents a collection of his childhood memories within a Jewish family, where father and mother work tirelessly in their restaurant. Within his loneliness at an early age, he faces several conflicts asking himself deep questions that lead him down paths that take him away from his Jewish world and opening the way to other minority groups, reaching the conclusion that the human race is only one with different experiences, creeds and stories. Interesting to see the development of this Jewish boy who from his earliest years questions the world around him and himself." - Samuel Soler, Quebradillas, PR. First public reaction to Genesis by reader. 8/8/2020
Two Ways West (1958-1961)
A father, a son, two stories making one. The first text is a Jewish-American tragi-comedy, dealing with the rise and fall of Sam Weisman,a New Jersey restaurant owner whose gambling addiction leads to a break with family members and forces his departure from his hometown and business on a one-way trip to L.A. The second is a coming of age narrative, as Sam’s son Mel takes his own road from New England to L.A. and the San Francisco Bay area, seeking friends and lovers until he finds a way that for him marks and makes all the difference. Representing countless Jewish-Americans and others who moved from the east coast to California in the 1950s and 60s, this book includes characters, incidents and insights that evoke a past period and project readers to our living present.
"I've just finished reading your book Two Ways West today. I really liked that combination of chronicle, personal history and fiction, but you know I have a predilection for this kind of book. The portrait of the father, who I assume is yours… is the most moving thing I have read
lately. Bravo! How fortunate to meet Gardner, the author of that marvel that is “Fat City”, to listen to jazz in the old Blackhawk of San Francisco, places that I dreamed of in my adolescence. The anecdote of the heroin addict who interrupts you while you’re with his doña is a beautiful ending - not at all sordid - for a book that has so much to do with tenderness and innocence."
- Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá, outstanding Puerto Rican novelist and chronicler--author of The Renunciation, Cortijo’s Wake, and several other books still awaiting published translation.
(MZ’s translation of an email received from him 6 de Oct. 2020)
No Light From Heaven (1961-1966)
To misquote Tolstoy, "Every unhappy marriage is unhappy in its own way." So it goes in Marc Zimmerman's No Light From Heaven, which tells of his protagonist's marriage to the passionate, beautiful, charismatic and willful Marlena Rienzi, an Italian-American woman of the 1950s who rejects the stereotypical roles that others wish her to play and lives out the fulfillment of her desires until, in the 1960s, she comes to see the marriage as a cage out of which she must break free. What emerges is a gripping narrative combining experience and imagination, a story evoking the compulsion and heartbreak of relationships that many have come to know.
“Who is Marlena? Like and unlike Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Constance Chatterley or Nicole Diver in F. Scott Fitzgerald's tragic novel-or other women who struggle against the bondso f marriage. An Italian-American woman of the 1950s who rejects the stereotyped roles others have wished her to play, who lives out her drive to attract and seduce many of those who come to know her, who is relentless in fulfilling her desires, and who, in the 1960s, comes to see the marriage she has sought as a cage out of which she must break.
A bi-sexual but primarily Lesbian woman demanding freedom and self-fulfillment no matter what, and a man whose passions lead him into a downward spiral that threatens his life and identity unless he can find the strength to escape.
Is the book a novel, a memoir or some hybrid genre? Clearly a Jewish-American narrative, it deals with Italian, Latino and African and other Americans, as the star-crossed lovers travel from California and Oregon to New York and back-to Spain, France, Italy as well as other locales in the U.S., Europe and Mexico. What emerges is a gripping narrative combining experience and imagination-a story of two who should probably have never been, a story evoking the compulsion and heartbreak of relationships many of us have come to know.” Guillermo Simbolov, Guatemalan critic and writer.
More appreciations of No Light from Heaven.
Black, Brown, and White on the Border (1966-1972)
With selections from his other border-centered autofiction books, this installment of Zimmerman’s Illusions of Memory series portrays his problematic Jewish Amerian protagonist, Mel, encountering African and Italian Americans, Mexicans, and Chicanos. Here is the San Diego-Tijuana border area and beyond during a time that proceeds but foreshadows the full crush of feminicide, narco-capitalism, and human trafficking that marks our now.
Part I presents Mel’s early relations with urban African Americans in stories depicting multi-ethnic parties, womanizing, ghetto theater work and Black empowerment. Part II’s stories mix reality, fantasy, humor, and pathos, with matters of sex, romance, love, and politics as Mel goes from the border area deep into Mexico. Part III portrays Mel’s parents in their Mexican misadventures, his father’s Mexican death and his mother’s reactions to it all, followed by Mel’s deepening relations to Chicano and cross-border encounters, his final departure from the border area, and his lingering memories of life on the border.
Managua, Mon Amour (Nevermore) (1969-1981)
Both epic and personal, Marc Zimmerman's latest work is a novel memoir novel of thwarted ambitions, conflict, and heartbreak.
Zimmerman's new book tells how his divorced Jewish American protagonist, Mel, marries Lena, a brilliant Central American activist-intellectual and endangers his academic career. He and Lena participate in anti-war, anti-Fascist and pro-Latino rights struggles; both join in Nicaragua’s anti-somocista movement, while Lena continues on her academic path and Mel fights to keep his intellectual calling alive even as he fights against Franquista executions, Mexican worker exploitation, sexual abuse, and drug-dealing gang violence. Breaking up and then joining up again, Lena and Mel work in the Sandinista Revolution, only to separate again, with Mel finding work in a Cuban refugee camp and finally winning a university home in a journey that painfully ends his closest human relationship.
"I’VE JUST FINISHED THE BOOK AND… I AM EXHAUSTED!!! Through Marc Zimmerman’s eyes and words I’ve traveled extensively, explored the ins and outs of academia, suffered the pains of an author, learned about revolution… viewed family relationships, suffered financial hardship, met more than a few people and experienced sexuality both in and out of multiple marriages. The vivid, detailed, lifelike, emotional, technicolor life experiences described in 'Managua Mon Amour' have exhausted me despite the pleasurable experience of reading about them." Dr. Murray Seltzer, M.D., writer and avid reader
Note: The author has prepared a glossary to help the reader identify many of the people mentioned in Managua Mon Amour (Nevermore), as well as many of the intellectually challenging terms and theories inevitable to the story he has had to tell. Readers may find more objective information by using Google or Wikipedia. But we try to present the materials here not as they were but as Mel and sometimes Lena see and understand them.
Click on the PDF icon to download the glossary.
Cycle III: 1981 - ??
Martin and Marvin (1981-2005)
Can friendship exist in the contemporary world? If so, how? Otherwise, when and how did friendship die? Did it ever exist? What was it or of what is it composed? Is friendship today like or different from friendships in the past? How to deal with an unbearable friend? How to handle a friendship when at least one has a Puerto Rican spouse and the other is a loner who seeks the love of the women within his reach or is, as that combative spouse would say, a serial predator who always seeks to exploit as many women as he can?
This book tells the story of Martin Klein, a Jewish Mexican living in Chicago— his family ties, friendships and love affairs, his artistic endeavors, his travel adventures, and misadventures. Centering on the relationship of Klein and his closest friend, Marvin, this combination of stories forms a special kind of short, fragmentary novel that explores friendship today, as well as the rise of Latino in Chicago and beyond.
“A special contribution to contemporary American literature.” ***** “An amazing book that will touch your heart.” ***** “Replete with poetic imagery and philosophical depth.” ***** “Well written and entertaining—a saga of true friendship.” ***** “A gem.”
Read reviews by Ellen McCracken, Prof. Comparative Lit. U. of California Santa Barbara and Stephanie Cordero, student, U. de Puerto Rico Mayaguez, and Antonio Zavala, journalist and author of Pale Yellow Moon.
Click on the PDF icon to read a review by José Ángel N., author of Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant
Also available in the Spanish language edition
Martín y Marvin
"El libro inicia con una narración que rastrea una amplia gama de incidentes y encuentros hilvanados por la muerte de Martín y lo que su vida y fallecimiento implica para Marvin y para otros que lo conocieron. Una segunda secuencia narrativa incluye una serie de acontecimientos y sueños que brindan nuevas perspectivas sobre los amigos y que culmina con la visita del hijo de Martín a Puerto Rico y la nueva conciencia de Marvin sobre lo que mantuvo la amistad entre ambos incluyendo sus dudas sobre la muerte de su amigo así como resignarse a su pérdida y a su propio final inminente. Es una joya." Guillermo Simbolov, traductor y crítico ruso-guatemalteco.
"En una narrativa que cierra el círculo solo en su última página, Marvin, bendecido por la sabiduría de la vejez, se da cuenta de que la identidad no es más que una falacia, y que judío-mexicano, judío- puertorriqueño, mexicano y mexicano-estadounidense no son más que etiquetas arbitrarias que se nos imponen y con las que a menudo se nos obliga a luchar sin pensar. O al menos eso parecen sugerir las imágenes poéticas, la profundidad filosófica y el tono redentor del final de Martín y Marvin..." Ángel N., autor de Illegal.
"Bien escrito y entretenido, este libro de Zimmerman, experto en literatura latina, es la narrativa de una amistad duradera entre ambos personajes que solo termina cuando Martín fallece. El libro es literatura local, brinda a los lectores una sensación de espacio y tiempo sobre cómo se relacionaban los latinos en Chicago en las décadas de 1970 y 1980. ... Es una saga de verdadera amistad entre dos hombres que comparten más que un café en los restaurantes locales de Chicago. Los dos son los amigos leales que todos deseamos tener en nuestras vidas a menudo ocupadas pero a veces solitarias." Antonio Zavala, activista, periodista y escritor mexicano. Autor de Pale Yellow Moon.
Forthcoming in Cycle III:
In the Jungle of the Cities (1980-1988) 2024
The Solid Years. Chicago, Guatemala and The World (1988-2001) 2025
Houston and Puerto Rico (2001-2011) 2026
The Not So Golden Years: Chicago and Puerto Rico (2011-?) 2027