The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez by Rudy Ruiz is a work of magical realism set on the border between Mexico and the United States. When it was first released in 2020, it earned the International Latino Book Award for fiction, and the title is well deserved. Readers are catapulted into the story when the titular Fulgencio Ramirez notices the name of his long-time nemesis in the obituary section. Fulgencio spent years waiting for this news, so he leaves his pharmacy to attend the funeral and speak with the man’s widow, Carolina. For Fulgencio, the death of Carolina’s husband represents a chance to start fresh and make amends for his youthful failings, and it is this desire which propels most of the novel’s action.
Different periods of Fulgencio’s life are depicted to illustrate the ways in which his perspectives have been flawed. As a young man, Fulgencio placed Carolina on a pedestal and spent too much time consumed by the future, failing to see the present clearly. In a border town in the 1950s, the relationship between blonde, white Carolina Mendelssohn and Fulgencio Ramirez raises plenty of eyebrows and frequently triggers Fulgencio’s jealousy as he worries that he is not good enough for Carolina. He hopes that by pursuing a college degree, he will be able to provide for her, but he is too proud to accept help from her father, leading to even more conflict.
Magic and spirits pervade Fulgencio’s life, but despite these influences, he does not recognize la maldicion (a curse) afflicting him and his family until it is too late. Despite being able to converse with spirits of those who have moved on to El Otro Lado (The Other Side), he tries desperately to control his jealousy and anger without seeking help, but eventually, he must turn to the spirits to understand how to become a better person.
Though it presents events out of chronological order, the novel follows Fulgencio from the time he’s a teenager, falling in love with Carolina for the first time in the 1950s until the 1980s when he acknowledges that, “We all have to grow up sometime.” While the traditional bildungsroman story follows a young person over a brief period of time, most of us can look back on our high school and college-aged selves and see clearly that our “growing up” was halting and incomplete, much like Fulgencio’s. It is this ease of identification with Fulgencio that carries readers through their inevitable frustrations with him.
Early in the novel, some readers may be uncomfortable with Fulgencio. His machismo leads him to behave badly; at times, he literally cannot hear Carolina when she talks about her own dreams for the future. During these moments, his mind is consumed by chanting that he does not understand. La maldicion and his single-minded focus on his own vision of the future blind him to the needs and desires of people around him, particularly Carolina. When he comes to understand la maldicion (placed on his family generations earlier), he seeks to break it, but it is clear that an internal change is also necessary. Ruiz has said that “The curse is symbolic of the machismo [Fulgencio] carries inside of him, a self-destructive mix of insecurity, pride and rage,” and although the magical elements of the story are certainly helpful for Fulgencio, he must also be personally transformed in order to reclaim Carolina’s respect.
The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez illustrates the long, arduous process of growing up and growing out of the faulty scripts we may have learned about gender and relationships. The novel is not bogged down by these concerns, though. Its effusive descriptions are reminiscent of Laura Esquivel, and at its core, it is a story of star-crossed lovers destined to be together. Fulgencio is flawed, yet magnetic; we want the best for him, and that does mean he must change and grow. At times, change and growth are painful, but Ruiz’s prose is buoyant and immersive, drawing us into the magic that Fulgencio sees in the border landscape and pulling us across the imaginary boundaries that divide the characters (and readers) from their best lives. Racism, pride, misunderstandings, and more can easily divide us, just as they divide Fulgencio and Carolina, but with effort and care, we can bridge such divides.
The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez
By Rudy Ruiz
Published September 22, 2020
Paperback October 12, 2021