Title: Normal Miguel
Author Name & Publisher: Erik Orrantia (Cheyenne Publishing)
Publication Date & Length: June 2, 2010
Miguel Hernandez is a teacher who has left Mexico City to complete a one year student internship in the rural hills of Puebla. He came to the school intending to focus on his teaching and his students but quickly learns that it is impossible to keep his private and professional lives separate-particularly as his experience turns into a voyage of self-discovery. His students, the Directora of the school, the baker, and other people from the town all contribute to his growing awareness. But most important is Ruben, the owner of the candy store who progresses from merchant to friend to lover. He will be the man who has the most effect on Miguel-and who, in turn, is transformed by the impact of Miguel on his own life. This is a lyrical story that brings to life the countryside of rural Mexico, with its grinding poverty but care of the people for their native land; expressing prejudice and hate but at the same time affirming the power of love and acceptance in overcoming obstacles. As a slice of life in the year of Miguel, Normal Miguel will certainly capture the hearts and imaginations of those who join him on his journey in the pages of the book.
This story is both moving and beautifully written. The story of a student teacher in a rural Mexican village may be an unfamiliar one to most readers, but the truths Miguel learns about himself and about human nature are universal.
Miguel’s struggles will be familiar to any teacher. How can he meet the needs of so many diverse students? How does he belong to the school, to the town? And how does he balance a personal life with his professional life? At times Miguel’s idealistic enthusiasm is heartbreaking. His observations of his pupils are precise, his care for them almost obsessive (something all teachers will remember from the beginning).
The adjustment of the urban teacher to his village setting is fascinating. Miguel grew up impoverished, but rural poverty is a harsh shock. Miguel’s perceptions of the people in the village change dramatically over the course of the year. Slowly the eccentric characters become real and very human as Miguel begins to see a shared humanity rather than divisive differences.
I know this book won awards as a gay romance, but this story is so much bigger and more important than most romances. Orranta has the observational skill of Louis De Bernieres in his stories of Latin America or Turkey. Orranta’s characters and places are real. The lessons Miguel learns about himself and about the people around him are beautiful. And the relationship he develops with Reuben is too honest, too human for a romance. To call this a gay romance is to marginalise something important. This is a haunting, delicately written coming of age story.
Born in San Francisco in 1970, Erik Orrantia lived in the San Francisco Bay area until 1997. By that time, he had earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Counseling at California State University in Hayward. His original intention was to build a practice in psychotherapy.
He then felt a calling to explore the world and entered an International Study Program in Mexico City where he earned a teaching credential. He currently works as a middle school teacher in San Ysidro, California, along the Mexican-American border. He was voted Teacher of the Year in 2008 for his school district.
He has traveled extensively throughout Mexico. He now spends most of his time in Tijuana with his partner and dedicates his free time to writing.