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Reyes, an accomplished playwright and theater professor, bares his soul with searing candor in this graceful memoir about growing up as a Chilean immigrant in America. It’s as much the story of his mother’s life in a new land as it is his own. The book recounts tenuous ties to a father and family he barely knew back in Chile, until later in life; his mother’s work as a house cleaner and a nanny, forever putting her son’s interests ahead of her own; and his years-long, self-conscious struggle with same-sex relations and body image, despite the fact that pictures of a young Reyes in his 20s show him to be a handsome fellow.

As a boy, he wouldn’t go to the beach, for fear of exposing his body to the ridicule he assumed awaited him; and though he had high school and college crushes, disrobing for sex was always traumatic. The author’s honesty about coming to terms with his fears is expressed with a compelling combination of poignant honesty and rueful wit, a tone that infuses this spirited life story.

Madre & I: A Memoir of Our Immigrant Lives, by Guillermo Reyes.
University of Wisconsin Press, 288 pages, $18.95 paper.

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