Wed | Jul 15, 2020

Book Review | From Ruins to Wholeness

Published:Friday | December 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Book: This Is For You

Author: Angel Castillo

Critic: Dr Glenville Ashby

In her first published work, Angel Castillo proves her salt as a writer of enviable range. At the outset, Castillo paints a world of charred ruins gnawing away at her nascent mind. Her space is crammed, and in psychological terms, there is little manoeuvrability for triangulation. Suffocating, she must lift the carapace under which she hides in torment. As she stumbles through a cacophony of emotions, her pertinacity is never in question. Hers is an existential search for meaning.

'Forgiveness', a poetic missive to her mother, encapsulates the dynamics that will frame her reality. There is no nuclear family - not that it matters - but there is enough denial, rejection and confusion to demand psychoanalytical enquiry.

"My mother's anger hasn't died down yet," she unleashes, the first of many salvos. She later concedes, "You taught me something special, I learnt how to make Nothing out of something ... because of the way you raised me." Arguably, 'Forgiveness' is her most provocative offering.

It is hard to imagine that Castillo's view of the world is not irreconcilably split. Heavily invested in self-healing, she embraces a world that is more nuanced. Her later experiences, though, prove equally brutal. She screams if only to feel her presence.

From dark musings of suicide to attempted self-immolation, from drug-fuelled efforts to quiet pestering demons, to sexual indulgences to confirm her identity, Castillo delivers her best work in 'Faith.' It is here that we journey through calcified emotions, a psyche wrought by self-hatred and a psyche ultimately salvaged through marriage to its Redeemer.

"My freshman year of high school," she writes, "I tied a rope around my neck just right, and that was the first time I can tell you I knew what a hug felt like."

Later, she shares, "When I turned 20 I held a memorial for the life I was ready to give up, the squiggly scar lined from the razor blade that reminded me I once hated myself enough to die ... If only you knew how hard it was to embrace my skin like a suit of armour to share my smile like a love letter handwritten by my grandmother in heaven ..."


Common cause


At last, there is redemption.

Castillo's anguish extends beyond her person. In the disaffected she finds a common cause. She cries out, her exhortation directed to black men. She understands the perilous waters they tread.

'Dear Black Men' is a stirring, detailed commentary on America's victimised.

"Toy guns, no dolls, football or basketball ...

Skip your classes

Come in late

Crips or blood?

Choose your fate

Smoke weed and drink your pain away

Your family don't listen

Having feelings is gay ..." she pens.

She draws attention to the many cases of police misconduct, warning against becoming another statistic. The list of victims, disturbingly long.

"Late nights walking down the block

Gotta get home to your kid

Police pull you over

I pray to God they let you live

Don't move. Don't speak

... Handcuffs right around your wrist

You have nothing on you suspicious

Except your skin."

Amid the mistrust, amid the violence, her message is defiant: " Black boy may you continue to rise. Black man continue changing lives."

Slowly, Castillo is unchained and her demons exorcised. There is optimism, sensitivity, forgiveness.

In 'Beautiful, Understanding, Determined. Dope - You,' she writes, "What a blessing it is to have crossed our path during this lifetime

What a privilege it is to live you."

And in 'Progress,' she asks, "What does love mean to you?"

Philosophically, Castillo explores atonement, gratitude and love of self.

"I am love," she avers. "Unconditional at its purest form. I still love you. But I love me more

So-to my favourite broken heart, I am smiling like I have conquered something. Because I have."

In a similar vein, she concludes in 'Untitled', "I'm realising I'm still wealthy in who I am

There's richness in every breath given

You no longer get to do your healing at the expense of my soul."

Remarkably, every offering in Castillo impressive debut follows a clearly defined trajectory towards wholeness.

For sure, Castillo is no longer bowed by the harsh terrain she once traversed. Her rebirth inspires.

This is for You takes us into the deepest recesses of human despair but it allows us to revel in the exalted passions that only life can offer.

This Is For You by Angel Castillo

(c) 2018 Angel Castillo

Publisher: Lulu Books

ISBN 978-0-359-16361-8

Available at

Ratings: Recommended

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