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‘Painted Cities’ Gives a Portrait of Pilsen

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014

painted cities WEBKeri O'Mara
Saul Bellow’s novel “The Adventures of Augie March,” opens with its title character narrating, “I am an American, Chicago born — Chicago, that somber city — and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.”

Though Augie March may be a Chicago-born American, his creator, Bellow, is not. Still, Chicago, Bellow’s adopted hometown, serves as the vivid and detailed backdrop to his novels. In “Adventures,” Augie navigates the streets of his Humboldt Park neighborhood with passages so detailed, you can trace his paths and nearly feel the city air in his words.

Author Alexai Galalviz-Budziszewski, on the other hand, is Chicago born, and his debut book, “Painted Cities,” explores life in a Chicago neighborhood just a few miles south of Bellow’s. Born and raised in the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen, Galalviz-Budziszewski has released a collection of stories that span heartbreaking, funny and beautiful, all while vividly rooted in the history and geography of the south-side neighborhood.

In a recent book reading at the Book Cellar, an independent bookstore in Chicago, Galalviz-Budziszewski spoke with fellow writer Adam Levin about the city and writing “place narratives.”

“I don’t know if it is because of the way Chicago is just set up, Chicago is a really segregated city … But I think out of that you come up with people wanted to express isolation, but at the same time, unity within these little pockets,” Galalviz-Budziszewski said.

Told through the eyes of Pilsen’s residents and looking back on his own experiences growing up in the then-notably-rough neighborhood, Galalviz-Budziszewski shares tales of “ghetto miracles” and gangs, families and apartment fires. He reflects on the innocence of childhood without sugarcoated nostalgia, instead examining an upbringing in Pilsen with brutal honesty and poetic voice.

In the collection of stories, Galalviz-Budziszewski blends autobiography and fiction, telling accounts of weddings, tragedies, childhood adventures and even the supernatural, all while giving glimpses into the heart of the neighborhood hosting these tales and memories. When asked about whether the book is a memoir, Galalviz-Budziszewski shared that he wanted to explore storytelling and fiction in “Painted Cities,” and avoided the memoir title.

“These stories are, on purpose, floating, and I don’t want to tie it down,” Galalviz-Budziszewski said.

The stories range from short accounts, flashbacks, snapshots and anecdotes that run only a few pages, to longer pieces, including an excellent, fantastical story of a kid who may or may not have the power to bring the dead back to life.

“Painted Cities” is a fantastic collection of pieces that show Galalviz-Budziszewski’s talent as a storyteller and master of the place narrative. The only problem with the book is it is too short, and it will leave you wanting more of this author who is sure to join that group of writers, with Bellow and Stuart Dybeck, who tell the stories of Chicago with a combination of grit and beauty.

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About Allie Tollaksen

Scene Editor. Senior studying Psychology and dabbling in everything else.

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