TO REMEMBER IS TO LIVE AGAIN
By Federico Erebia, SCBWI Guest Blogger
My debut novel, Pedro & Daniel (Levine Querido, June 6) is thirty years in the making. It is a fictionalized retelling of my relationship with my brother Daniel who died when he was thirty; he would have turned sixty, just a few days ago.
Daniel was my “fifteen-months-younger twin.” We were gay and neurodivergent, before there was awareness, let alone diagnostic testing for dyslexia, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder. But these were the least of our challenges, and in fact, we excelled in our education.
Our mutually profound disinterest in sports rivaled the intensity of a Mexican sports announcer’s voice when a goal has been made at a professional soccer match. For those unfamiliar with these lung-capacity-defying vocal expulsions, there are terrific examples online. In any case, we were expected to play sports, in an ill-conceived attempt to coax a non-existent talent out of us. We were miserable in our lackluster pursuits.
Son tal para cual.
They are two of a kind.
Despite our similarities, Daniel and I were dissimilar in our struggles, our dreams, and in our distinct approach to life. We had conflicting views about religion, and divergent relationships with the Catholic Church. We had very different experiences with HIV/AIDS: I became an HIV primary care specialist, and he succumbed to the maldito virus, when we had few treatment options to offer our patients.
Daniel and I shared an intense passion for all things Mexico. One of our last excursions, while he was still healthy, was to attend Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries, a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Before we left the museum, I bought him the massive book that accompanied the exhibition; it was the only item of his that I requested upon his death, and I used it as a reference when writing about that weekend in Pedro & Daniel.
I’ve always been a socially awkward introvert. In contrast, Daniel was the life of any gathering. I trusted no one, yet he was unguarded and carefree. I suffered disproportionately at home. He was more vulnerable to the evils of the outside world.
Mismo perro con distinto collar.
Same dog, different collar.
Folks have asked, “Why isn’t Pedro & Daniel considered a fictional memoir?” The answer is simple. The novel is equally about each main character. There is a full arc of Pedro’s life from childhood until he is a young man. Ditto for Daniel. There are two additional arcs that follow their relationship. Part One of the book is a sixteen-chapter-arc, told in third person, detailing sixteen formative months in their young lives. The omniscient narrator’s voice changes slightly, as if these chapters are narrated by the priests, police, neighbors, social workers, and the family doctor who were aware of the children’s plight, but chose to do nothing on their behalf. Part Two through Part Five are told in first person with points of view alternating between these brothers.
There are many other unusual elements in the structure and formatting of the novel.
For the writing, I chose to use rhyming, as well as free verse poetry; other poetic devices for lyrical writing; and standard prose. This mix of writing is unusual, but I like its effect, causing both subtle and visceral emotions. I use Spanish and translation in unexpected ways. And I included over two hundred dichos, or Spanish proverbs, throughout the book; there is a full Appendix of Dichos at the end of the book.
Various societal themes are addressed, including colorism, racism, homophobia, domestic violence, and colonialism. The boys experience most forms of abuse that one human can inflict on another. And it’s unusual that the mother is the abusive parent, and the husband is the abused spouse.
Despite the formidable odds against them, the boys experience much joy and laughter. They have a brotherly bond that helps their indomitable resilience and hope shine through.
The last chapters are highly philosophical, as the boys – now young men – confront their beliefs, their demons, their mortality. They self-reflect. They argue about the existence of a higher being, or other life in our universe. They grapple with the sins of omission and commission inherent in the Doctrine of Discovery, and the thievery of lands from Indigenous Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and elsewhere.
The last time I saw my brother was at the AIDS Memorial Quilt display on the National Mall in Washington DC.
The novel ends with a full-circle, fifty word reference to the central theme in the first chapter of the book. These fifty words are the first words I wrote about Pedro and Daniel. I thought it was particularly poignant to end the novel with these words, paired with a photo of myself with Daniel, my brother, taken a few months before the events that start this novel:
I remember the assignment.
“Bring something special; your one true treasure.”
Girls displayed dolls, dresses, diaries.
Boys brought baseball cards, cars, comics.
I’d been nervous on the bus.
How had I convinced Mom?
I remember the teacher’s face, her open mouth.
Because my one true treasure was
Daniel, my brother.
Pedro & Daniel has been called “heartbreaking & heartwarming”; “heart-wrenching & joy-filled”; “gut-wrenching & belly-laughingly joyful.” Daniel was the funniest person I’ve known, and I believe I have brought him back to life within the pages of our book. I’m sharing him with the rest of the world, which was my ultimate goal.
Recordar es volver a vivir.
To remember is to live again.
About Pedro & Daniel:
“An unforgettable journey of resilience and, most of all, love. Stunning.”
- Kirkus Reviews, (Starred Review)
“Luminous. Riveting. Uplifting and heart-wrenching.”
- Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
Pedro and Daniel are Mexican American brothers growing up in 1970s Ohio. Their mother resents that Pedro is a spitting image of their darker-skinned father; that Daniel likes dolls; that neither boy plays sports. Both are gay and neurodivergent. They are alike, but they are dissimilar in their struggles, their dreams, their approach to life.
Pedro & Daniel is a deeply personal novel that spans from the boy’s childhood until they are young men. Together, they find joy and laughter as they endure abuses, coming out, first loves, first jobs, and the AIDS pandemic, in a coming-of-age story unlike any other.
Publisher: Levine Querido
Publication date: June 6, 2023
Federico Erebia is a retired physician, woodworker, author, and illustrator. He received a BA from the College of Wooster, and an MD from Brown University. Pedro & Daniel (Levine Querido, June 6) is his debut novel. He is on the SCBWI Impact & Legacy Fund Steering Committee, was in the inaugural Poets & Writers publicity incubator for debut authors, is a Grubbie Debut Author, and is a member of the Boston Author’s Club and several other writing groups. He lives in Massachusetts with his husband, and their westie and whippet, in the home he redesigned and renovated.
Book cover and interior illustrations by Julie Kwon
Headshot credit: Joel Benjamin
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