Hundreds of thousands of readers came to know Luis J. Rodriguez through his fearless classic, “Always Running,” which chronicled his early life as a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles. With over 400,000 in print since 1995, “Always Running” is now widely regarded as a classic of Chicano literature and remains timely and at once vivid, raw and powerful. The long awaited follow-up, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (Touchstone, $24.99),” is the equally harrowing story of Rodriguez starting over, at age 18, after leaving gang life — the only life he really knew.
“It Calls You Back” opens with Rodriguez’s final stint in jail as a teenager and follows his struggle to kick heroin, renounce his former life and search for meaningful work. He describes with heartbreaking honesty his challenges as a father and his difficulty leaving his rages and addictions completely behind. Even as he breaks with “la vida loca” and begins to discover success as a writer and an activist, Rodriguez finds that his past — the crimes, the drugs, the things he’d seen and done — has a way of calling him back. When his oldest son is sent to prison for attempted murder, Rodriguez is forced to confront his shortcomings as a father and to acknowledge how and why his own history is repeating itself, right before his eyes.
“Any unique, compelling, powerful story is worthwhile,” said Rodriguez. “Humans and communities are wellsprings of stories. The earth itself holds stories in its rocks, bushes, trees, and even earthquakes and fires. Memoir has the quality that the story — even if some of the facts are changed — is not made up. But memoir is also based on, more or less, re-imagining of what happened. People who expect memoir to be a fully accurate account of one’s life will be disappointed. But truth is paramount, even if names, details, circumstances aren’t exactly as they may have been due to the filtering process — or even just to protect people. But the prism of memory can also congeal, crystallize and make succinct what is otherwise complex and confusing. Also, reflecting on the qualities and features of your life can draw out lessons that can resonate with others. One’s story has been described as having been written before one is born — the key is to live it out. Writing this story should not replace having a full, conscious and active existence.”