“One of the best novellas of 2015”
David Abrams, The Quivering Pen
“A fully absorbing novella by a true master of the storytelling arts.”
John Taylor, Midwest Book Review
A “child stalked by death” and an incidental act of kindness in a world without it drives the tragedy in Lawrence Coates’s Camp Olvido.
Richard Henry, Rain Taxi Review
Library Journal starred review
Winner of the 2015 Miami University Press Novella Prize
In the Great Central Valley of California in 1932, a bootlegger named Esteban Alas makes the rounds of the migrant labor camps that dot the vast and fertile agricultural fields. He earns his living by peddling wine and brandy to the mostly Latino fieldworkers, showing up at twilight and bringing a little celebration with him, cheap alcohol to take away the pains of the day.
One evening at labor camp nicknamed Camp Olvido, Esteban finds that a child’s sickness has taken away all desire for his wares, and nobody is in the mood for the kind of meager happiness he can provide. To purchase the goodwill of the camp for his next visit, he gives the parents of the child some money to help with medicine.
This gesture draws Esteban into a dispute between the child’s father and the enganchista, the labor contractor, who demands that he fulfill his contract. Step-by-step, he is entangled in the kind of conflict between landowners and workers he has always avoided. Esteban hopes to return to his role until an act of violence makes his connection to the lives of those suffering inescapable.
An intense and compelling story that plumbs the moral complexities of individual and community.
[A] stunning exploration of one man's bold actions and their consequences. Gorgeously written, the novella shows the dark side of California's prosperity, with violence and, unexpectedly, elements of the divine. A superb addition to a distinguished series.—Cary Holladay
I have rarely read a novella so rich, with the moral complexities of Melville’s Billy Budd and the social and visual acuity of a film like Buñuel’s Los olvidados . . . Read Camp Olvido, a masterful work of fiction, as provocative as it is jaw-dropping in its beauty.—Wendell Mayo
In Camp Olvido, Lawrence Coates paints a sensual and humane picture of life and death in a depression-era work camp peopled by Latino fieldworkers . . . showing not only the sorrow of endemic poverty and powerlessness but the love and good humor of a community that can endure.—Bonnie Jo Campbell