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Chango's Fire Hardcover – September 28, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Rayo (September 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060564598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060564599
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,635,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With the money he makes burning down houses as part of an insurance scam, Julio Santana, 29, a reluctant professional arsonist in Spanish Harlem, strives to make a better life for himself and his parents in this heart-on-its-sleeve novel of urban Latino life by Quiñonez, author of the critically acclaimed Bodega Dreams (2000). Despite his ambitions to make good—he's also in night school and working an above-board demolition job—Julio is wary of the gradual gentrification of his beloved neighborhood, which takes a personal turn when white girl Helen moves in downstairs. Her swings from condescension to belligerence are rather jarring (and not entirely credible), but Julio falls for her and embarks on a doomed relationship. Meanwhile, his old friend Maritza is running a church on the ground floor of his building, which she uses as a front for anti-AIDS crusading and shady immigration dealings. Erratic plotting jolts the reader from one neighborhood drama to the next, as Julio wrestles with questions of identity and ethics. But when he's blackmailed by his boss into doing one last arson job, a plot twist lets him (and Quiñonez) take the easy way out. Quiñonez has a comfortable familiarity with his turf and the catchy Spanglish most of his characters speak, but he tackles too much in this sometimes preachy, sketchy novel.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

"New York City, like the country it's in, is a place that promises you everything but gives you nothing," contends Julio Santana. So the young man struggles to save his crumbling piece of Spanish Harlem even as he works for Eddie, an insurance-fraud specialist responsible for destroying much of Julio's neighborhood. Hanging onto the notion that "in America, it's where you end up that matters, not how you get there," Julio hopes to pay for night school and fix up the apartment building floor he owns by setting fires for Eddie and watching over the old man's unacknowledged son. Soon, though, the flames from Julio's hidden life threaten to consume everything he has worked for--along with his parents; his Santeria priest friend, Papelito; and gallery owner Helen. In his searing portrait of a community at the tipping point, Quinonez ably illuminates the sordid politics of gentrification and the unexpected places new immigrants turn to for social and spiritual support. His exploration of the often misunderstood Santeria--the title references the religion's trickster god, Chango--proves especially fascinating. Frank Sennett
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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See all 22 customer reviews
Quinoez has an extremely powerful writing voice and a true sense of pacing.
David J. Gannon
I purchased the book for a Latin Literature class I am currently taking, it was an assigned book.
J. Santos
If you like books on Spanish Harlem and its people, then you will enjoy Ernesto's work.
John Salgado

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Guy L. Gonzalez on December 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
There is something simultaneously appealing and frustrating about Ernesto Quinonez's second novel, a marked improvement over his highly-flawed debut, Bodega Dreams, but in the end, still something of a disappointment. This time, the problem lies in his biting off more than he can chew with too many subplots rolling around what is essentially one man's coming-of-age story at its heart.

He's inexplicably combined the systematic burning of Spanish Harlem, insurance fraud, organized crime, gentrification, Santeria, pseudo-socialism, illegal citizenship papers, a shady government agent and a few other random nuggets into a muddle-headed plot that rests precariously, and unsuccessfully, on a straight-out-of-Hollywood interracial romance...and frankly, he's just not up to the task. When the cliches aren't jumping off the page at the reader, the heavy-handed didacticism is smacking them in the face.

His protagonist, Julio Santana, is a philosophizing arsonist yearning for the old days while trying to turn his life around after the proverbial "last job." Almost every other character is either an archetype or a stereotype, none ever fully coming to life beyond the "issue" Quinonez has chosen them to represent. After some hit-or-miss character and plot 'development' in the first two-thirds of the book, the hasty climax gets sloppy and, just like in Bodega Dreams, includes an out-of-left-field occurrence to wrap things up. The too-convenient epilogue only makes matters worse.

That said, Quinonez is no hack and with a less ambitious plot that focused more on the characters he obviously had a connection to, especially the engaging babalawo Papelito, he could have had something really special here.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Palen on August 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
Good opening on the subject of arson in the Puerto Rican 'hood in simple style fitting the Puerto Rican narrator, Julio. About two thirds through it seemed to get tangled and the writing style seemed to me uneven and choppy - I was thinking of downrating to 3 stars. However, the author pulled everything back together for a nice ending and the rating went back up. Except for that section, which seemed to need more editing, it is basically a well-written socialogical novel with interesting array of characters: atheist woman do-gooder preacher, retarded friend, loving ex-musician father and firey funny mother, naive perky white girlfriend, undercover INS agent, homosexual voodoo priest/hero, etc. All in all, quite entertaining, but not a comedy - serious stuff. Interesting information about slum clearance by arson (everyone benefits except the insurance company stock holders and the tenents), and about the little known religion of Santeria ("way of the Saints"). I liked it well enough to think about reading his first book, Bodega Dreams, and definitely will keep a lookout for Mr. Quinonez' next novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Salgado on January 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
I couldn't put this book down! Great characters and an awesome story line. If you like books on Spanish Harlem and its people, then you will enjoy Ernesto's work. Great job brother!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Paul on June 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
A New American Classic

Yes, finally Stienbeck and Dos Passos can smile in heaven! In a time in America when we NEED authors to take a social stand, this author does. This protest novel takes no prisoners. Like Tom Joad's Oklahoma, Ernesto Quiñonez's Spanish Harlem is a place in America where clergymen's children are torn between right and wrong. As an adjunct professor who hates to teach books that matter little, I was happy when they okayed this novel. The simplicity, that many call amateurish (as they once called Kerouac's work, not writing but typing) is it's own poetry and just like my hero John Steinbeck, who preaches in Grapes of Wrath, sometimes for entire pages full of didactic social issues in connection with the New Deal, I was smiling when I read Chango's Fire--there is hope for American literature.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By khalidah kamal on April 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
this is so real. the prose is so interesting that I could relate to the thoughts of these characters and they were real.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Coolhandluke on March 6, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This novel moves fast but it's lyrical and full of stories about Spanish Harlem and Santeria.
I liked it also because it kept me on guard and at times surprised. I will read Ernesto's other novels
since I liked this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Santos on April 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased the book for a Latin Literature class I am currently taking, it was an assigned book. The book is an easy read (I thought a little too simple for the class I am in) but, it really brings to life the community that Spanish Harlem was and is currently changing to. My family migrated to Spanish Harlem in the 40s and we all have lived here since than and Quinonez's depiction is pretty spot on. I am an instant fan and plan on picking up his other book, Bodega Dreams once all my reading is done for the semester.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ratmammy VINE VOICE on February 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
CHANGO'S FIRE by Ernesto Quinonez
February 26, 2005

I found CHANGO'S FIRE by Ernesto Quinonez a rather unusual novel. Julio Santana is of Puerto Rican descent, living in Spanish Harlem. He makes a living in construction, but at the same time he's also being paid to burn down buildings, as part of an insurance scam. He makes good money, people get their insurance money, and everyone is happy. But Julio is tired of the lies and the destruction, and wants out. He goes to school at night to better himself, and tells his "boss", Eddie, that he has done his last building and refuses to burn another. Eddie, however, isn't too happy about Julio's plans, and threatens him.

While this is one theme in CHANGO'S FIRE, there are other things that are going on while Julio tries to change his life. There are many colorful characters that reside in Julio's neighborhood, and many are trying to make a change for the better. There's Maritza, the radical crazy lady that runs a church to spout off her political beliefs. She hands out condoms and teaches the immigrants about abortion and birth control. There's Papelito, the (...) Santero priest, who is also trying to help those in the neighborhood that come to him. And there is Helen, who Julio finds a deep attraction for, maybe because she is not of this neighborhood and is someone that represents something that is out of reach for him, because of his color.

CHANGO'S FIRE was not an easy read. The themes in the book were rather complex, and of a nature that some may not care to read about. I found the character of Julio quite a departure from the type of persons I read about in fiction, and questioned often if what he did for a living truly happens?
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