Ciao! Miami is about people. The book’s action takes place in Miami, the characters consist of strippers, crack whores, guys who work at car washes, schizo- phrenics who see God, and drag queens; Ciao! Miami basically has the characters that can be found in any neighborhood in America and the world where the people don’t make much money.
Ciao! Miami — even though it has characters who live in poverty — does not do a naturalist type thing like Zola or Dreiser. Fawzy Zablah holds the theory that Charles Bukowski and Erskine Caldwell had, “Write about it like it is and people will look at it and see what they want”. It must be said though that Ciao! Miami‘s style, voice, and tone do not resemble Charles Bukowski and Erskine Caldwell’s. Fawzy Zablah has his own unique style and I would not be surprised if he didn’t even consider those writers influences.
Fawzy Zablah doesn’t have characters that are trying to change the world, but real-life people, people the media don’t want to admit exist. The first story “Eve in a Blue Robe” has post-op transsexuals who are gold diggers talking about rich men. One says at the end of the story, “Because I don’t want to be poor”. The line is simple and direct, but it gets right to the core of the situation: two women that are doing what they have to do to get money.
There is a story called “Juanito Valenzula’s Crack Rocks” which is about young people smoking crack together. The story is not long and doesn’t give motivations for the kids smoking crack. But there doesn’t need to be one, if you have or have ever known anyone who has smoked or currently smokes crack you know that person’s life has sucked. You know that person had a fucked childhood and things did not turn out right for them. The effect of many of the stories in Ciao! Miami doesn’t come directly from the story, but from you either being one of those characters or knowing those characters personally. The writing requires that you know something about what he is talking about, which makes it more personal and fulfilling when you do. But considering how the world is right, who the hell doesn’t know a crack head. “The Woman’s Army” is a great short story: if life was fair to Fawzy Zablah it would be read for the next several hundred years in history books to show how insane the mind of Americans had become in the early part of the 21st Century. The main character is a man named Jack who has seen God, so he decides to help people. A woman named Sally is getting beat by her husband and Jack kills the man — symbolizing that American Christians who believe in Capital punishment and go and kill Arabs while still saying they love God. Then Jack goes to Prison where a large black man named Easy Robinson makes Jack his bitch. Jack in his letters to Sally calls Easy Robinson a “nigger” while talking constantly of how much he loves God — symbolizing the Christian Republicans’ contradictory version of Christianity where it makes sense that a human can love God but say “nigger” at the same time. Then Jack kills Easy Robinson and cuts his eyes out highlighting the schizophrenia of religion in America. Jack also believes that Elian Gonzalez is the anti-Christ because the archangel Michael told him: “He assured me in my long held secret belief that a giant army of women led by the anti-Christ will attempt to take over the Vatican in Rome, Italy”. “The Woman’s Army” is full of insanity and comedy and fun. If Fawzy Zablaw meant for “The Woman’s Army” to be a take on Christian Republicanism, Latino Catholicism (even among my own Italian Catholic relatives who carried around little cards with Jesus and Mary on them but said “nigger” and called white protestants “stupid hillbillies”) is just the same.
“Darling, It Was an Uphill Battle Loving You” is a crazy story about a guy named John Martin who got divorced and decides to save a crack whore named Soledad. Jack Martin gets a job at a car wash and Soledad eventually cleans up enough to become a stripper. The character Jack Martin is a masterpiece, he is the prototype of the average American man who hasn’t done shit with his life, he says prejudiced things, thinks he can save women, gets jealous when men talk to his women while at the same is trying to get some other girl, fights and smokes weed. The guy is a silly silly motherfucker. Listen to this: “The first one was in South Philly with a group of give Puerto Rican coke dealers. They whistled at one of my girls and there was a standoff just like this one. I broke two noses, and demolished two nut sacks that time. I got off with a stabbing in my left leg and a broken front tooth. But they never fucked with me again. Those motherfuckers. The second one was in Japan, when I was in the Army. It was a gang of four samurai hoodlums and I got a broken nose and a head concussion. They caught me off guard with pipes and chains. I broke the leader’s right arm that time tough.”
In short, it’s a damn good book: 98 pages of raucous, all-round good fun. If you like stories about earthy people that live sad and funny lives go buy Ciao! Miami by Fawzy Zablah.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, November 21st, 2006.