Anker Frankoni’s Mexican Eskimo Book 1: Exmikan is a cross-genre book (I refuse to simply call it fiction) that takes readers on a journey through time, space, spirit, and family. It is a story of the merging of multiple families and individuals across oceans and time and memory, and it is a writer’s purging of the shame of secrets and “what ifs.” It is a history lesson, a family tree, a spiritual awakening, and a fierce determination to connect.
Frankoni roots his modern characters in the history of the United States. From Manifest Destiny to Guantanamo Bay, he simultaneously condemns cultural appropriation and commits it, and by doing so explores the horrific consequences of colonialism and neocolonialism.
“Back at home on that soil in 1898, the United States was faithfully bestowing those unique charters of freedom collectively embodied within the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights upon all of its citizens—or to all of those who were white and male at least.” (113)
The biting humor with which Frankoni reveals the historical setting of the first part of his trilogy allows the history on the page to come alive. But this isn’t the history of our high school textbooks—this is history as a living, breathing participant in the story. It’s all those odd facts that museum tour guides won’t tell you, but that are all you really care about.
“The best and most crooked of America’s Filipino puppets was eventually found in Ferdinand Marcos, a previously convicted murderer who was backed implicitly by the U.S. during a 20-year reign in which he bled his country for billions of dollars, and First Lady Imelda Marcos amassed one of the largest and most expensive collections of shoes ever assembled by an individual.” (115-116)
The book moves in and out of time—I will avoid saying “past, present, future” as that minimizes the fluidity of time and perception that is developed in the book—and character; it changes perspective from one chapter to the next, and introduces a multitude of characters and families, all of which coalesce to introduce Anker Frankoni, the author/character. The book does not shy away from providing judgment; if anything, it is the author as character’s perception of all of the other characters—living and dead, physical and mythical, transformed and destroyed—that appears to provide the basis for his exploration of an identity wrapped up in a familial history of sexual abuse, mental abuse, mental illness, addiction, neglect, suicide, and, also, love and hope, such as calling out one of the central characters as a “lecher” in his initial description. It is a “psychosis of brutality” (148), in raw, unflinching detail.
The author speculates at the beginning of the book that he wondered if he was writing his own “suicide note,” and comments that it is a “love letter” (8). The truth in both of these statements is in the complete and desperate need to unburden the self in both suicide and love letters. This book is a journey we as readers are being asked to take in order to assist the author/narrator in self-discovery. Additionally, as a significantly metafictional story, the intrusion of the recognition of the story as story allows the reader to continually connect to the author/narrator outside of time and text.
The humor infused throughout the book allows the fear, hate, and anger to not only come through genuinely, but without becoming insidiously flat. On speaking about his Prince Albert piercing, the author/narrator states, “So maybe that’s what it was: me awarding myself a medal… maybe in some odd way, the stainless-steel ring through the end of my penis was my granite trophy arch; my Chippendale dining table” (305). This is harshly revelatory with a level of levity that allows the reader to not only believe the self-speculative statements, but to want to believe. Even when there is denial and rejection of truth, the narrator always appears reliable, even when maybe he shouldn’t be. It is a book of secrets versus love, and the secrets are no more.
Often in books with such a magnitude of characters in multiple time periods there emerges a “favorite,” a character that I am sad to leave and in which I am rushing through a portion that does not involve this character to get to the part I find more riveting. I expected this with the numerous switches in perspective in character and time at the beginning—however, the weaving between worlds and people is done almost effortlessly, and even when I was confused at times about who was who, I never wished to leave the characters or story I was with, especially as the story continuing to build in the second third of the book (although I do think the book could benefit from a character glossary).
The first third of the book is a bit heavy on history-building (both at the family and cultural level), but it is all necessary to appreciate the development of characters in the remaining two-thirds of the book, and the quickening of the pace that follows the rhythm of the storytelling.
It is also important to look at the printed book as an object, a piece of art, itself—it is self-published and self-marketed, and perfect bound. The cover art is by Kelly Puissegur and provides a thought-provoking drawing that communicates with the story itself. The layout is functional and creative, and I will add the book to my library with pleasure, not only for the story, but for the book as object as well.
It is available as both an e-book and in paperback. Buy the book online here (kindle edition). Progressive indie bookshop buyers from Berkeley to Brooklyn have also taken an interest in Frankoni's unique brand of storytelling, and Mexican Eskimo Book 1: Exmikan is now on the shelves at stores in major cities across the country. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the book is available at City Lights, Green Apple Books, Walden Pond Books, Book Passage, Dog Eared, and Alley Cat Books, as well as select locations of Books Inc. and Copperfield's. Locate a shop with copies in your area on the 'Where to Buy' page at www.MexicanEskimo.com.