MARY HELEN LAGASSE

Author

Selected Works

Library Journal: “The heroine’s determination to improve her life and never to give up define this novel… Lagasse recalls the socially realistic novels of John Steinbeck and Edward Dahlberg with this stark, unadorned prose portrait.”
“I sat right down and read the book and I love it. In her new novel, Navel of the Moon, Mary Helen Lagasse has created a wonderfully engaging and complex young woman who tells a compelling story of the promise and pain and shared courage of growing up, not just for herself but for her city of New Orleans. This splendid work gives further evidence of Lagasse’s permanent place in our literary culture."
–Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author
It recalls the classic novels while offering “a different kind of New Orleans – not magnolias, moonlight, or vampires... but a place where dreams are big and reality is disillusionment."
–Shirley Ann Grau, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author
Essay - “The Channel”
Ms. Lagasse is one of the My New Orleans contributors singled out for praise... in a review by The Los Angeles Times: "The true strength of 'My New Orleans' lies in its contributors acute observations of a culture that has remained defiantly different... The city may be most famous for its French colonial roots, but novelist Mary Helen Lagasse deftly sketches the more familiar multiculturalism of its 20th century neighborhoods... "

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The Fifth Sun

VoceroNews/​New Orleans : 4/​9/​04 "[This] prize-winning novel grips you from the first paragraph... Mary Helen Lagasse's words communicate; they get under the skin to assure us that Mercedes--her Mercedes--is alive on every page, in every evocation..." (translated from the Spanish)

N. O. Times-Picayune: 4/​11/​04 "Lagasse not only tells an epic story of courage and the ongoing struggle to achieve spiritual wholeness, she has the epic storyteller's sense of pace... and understands the conflict between the human will and the fates." (Mary McKay chairwoman Loyola University English Dept.)

Booklist : 05/​04 "Lagasse's engaging debut novel is packed with period details and Mexican folklore. This is a welcome addition to the increasingly popular genre of immigration fiction, which can serve as a powerful antidote for immigration paranoia."

Publishers Weekly (5/​14/​04) cited in "It-List" of English-language Latino authors.

BookViews: 07/​ 2004 "This fast paced novel accurately and movingly reflects the Mexican-American experience and does so through a character you will root for from beginning to end."

Hartford Courant : 8/​8/​04 "A story of almost insurmountable challenges some immigrants face in their struggle to escape poverty and the soul-destroying indignity it brings... It is a story of what it takes to move beyond humiliation and heartbreak to create a sense of home."

Excelsior/​Mexico City: 8/​04 - (as quoted from EFE, "world's 3rd largest news service") "In her sophisticated writing, at once clear and accessible, Lagasse narrates the immigrant experience, giving voice to those who risk their lives crossing the frontier in search of a better life... "

Wilson County News (TX) : 8/​25/​04 "The Fifth Sun reveals the depths of the Mexican-American immigrant experience, and by doing so, it renders a fresh perspective on the resilience of the human spirit... the novel is full of exquisite detail that shows what superb control Lagasse has over the English language."

Semana News/​ Houston: 8/​29/​04 "In her novel Mary Helen Lagasse writes about women of power and the dream of all immigrants who cross the border in search of a better future." (Translated from the Spanish)

NewPages (3/​20/​04) "The Fifth Sun is a strong novel. Lagasse paints a powerful picture of Immigration during the Depression... Definitely recommended reading."

Multicultural Review (10/​01/​04) The Fifth Sun " ...lyrically written; a beautifully webbed story about survival, inner strength, and destiny; a moving tale of a woman's struggle and her hope for a life in which all elements are in balance: a family rejoined and a daughter who knows no borders but her own."

Pluma Fronteriza, Vol. 4, No. 4 (10/​1/​04) “Winner of the 3rd Marmol Prize, this is an inspiring story of a woman who struggles to raise her children and her valiant attempt to re-cross the river and be united with her family..."

The Bloomsbury Review (Nov/​Dec 2004 issue): "Mercedes is a contrast of timidity and ferocity, obedience and toughness... Throughout this beautifully told tale we are treated to the wonderful characters of Mercedes and Jesse... [their story] is a reminder that there is beauty and love to be found, even in hard lives lived under nearly impossible circumstances."

Amazon.com critic: "A marvelous book . . .The most disconcerting thing, maybe the only disconcerting thing, about this book is that as I read, I couldn't help thinking 'this is a FIRST novel'---It's just too good... "

The Library Journal: "Lagasse recalls the socially realistic novels of John Steinbeck and Edward Dahlberg with this stark unadorned prose portrait. Recommended for all large fiction collections and libraries serving Hispanic communities... "

The Chattanoogan: 4/​24/​04 "Lagasse has woven a tale of the American story. It may not be the story you’re used to hearing, but is one you should read. In 336 pages, Mercedes suffers a series of ups and downs, decisions and indecisions, and is ultimately transformed from a helpless girl into a heroine whose life isn’t to be pitied or despised, but honored. When you’re ready to honor Mercedes, grab your copy of The Fifth Sun."

The Los Angeles Times 4/​29/​04 "Lagasse's writing is vibrant with a mélange of New Orleans and Mexican zest... The Fifth Sun illuminates in piquant, visceral terms, the struggle of humankind to achieve spiritual growth amid stultifying conditions."

Eclectica 5/​1/​04 “A truly inspirational saga... of Mercedes Vasconcelos [who] leaves her village in Mexico (circa 1920’s) to work as a maid in New Orleans before “deportation and a magnificent struggle to return to the U.S. to make a better life for her children... ”

LaPrensa/​New Orleans: 05/​04 "Lagasse paints a moving portrait of early 20th century Mexican immigrants and the tough choices they face to protect their family, lives, and dignity."

Booklist: 05/​04 "Lagasse's engaging debut novel is packed with period details... This is a welcome addition to the increasingly popular genre of immigration fiction, which can serve as a powerful antidote for immigration paranoia."

Publishers Weekly (5/​14/​04) cited in "It-List" of English-language Latino authors.

BookViews: 07/​ 2004 "This fast paced novel accurately and movingly reflects the Mexican-American experience and does so through a character you will root for from beginning to end."

Hartford Courant : 8/​8/​04 "A story of almost insurmountable challenges... a story of what it takes to move beyond humiliation and heartbreak to create a sense of home."

Excelsior/​Mexico City: 8/​04 - (as quoted from EFE, "world's 3rd largest news service") "In her sophisticated writing, at once clear and accessible, Lagasse narrates the immigrant experience, giving voice to those who risk their lives crossing the frontier in search of a better life... "

Wilson County News (TX): 8/​25/​04 "The Fifth Sun reveals the depths of the Mexican-American immigrant experience, and by doing so, it renders a fresh perspective on the resilience of the human spirit... the novel is full of exquisite detail that shows what superb control Lagasse has over the English language."

Semana News/​Houston: 8/​29/​04 "In her novel Mary Helen Lagasse writes about women of power and the dream of all immigrants who cross the border in search of a better future." (Translated from the Spanish)