Beautiful & Brutal: A Review of Telomeres by Nicole Oquendo

Telomeres CoverReviewed by MR Sheffield

Hybrid Memoir
Paperback: approx. 60 pages
Publisher: Zoetic Press (forthcoming, 2016)

Nicole Oquendo’s Telomeres is a lyrical, haunting exploration of family trauma, identity, and the intersections of lies and truth. Interwoven throughout the memoir is the story of a father struggles with PTDS from his tours of duty in the Vietnam War, and a family’s fight to bear the weight of his trauma. Oquendo immerses the reader in a rich world of memory, fact, the and reverberations of both.

Split into three sections, Telomeres addresses a young Oquendo’s experiences with her father; it goes on to imagine the harrowing experiences of the Vietnam War even as Oquendo attempts to separate fact from fiction; the final section makes the legacy of trauma a visceral experience for the reader. We as readers are swept into the chaos along with Oquendo. We are also brutalized by the love and violence of a lost man.

because in dreams and stories we are inventions, there is no cure, torture, crawling through the mud, one hundred ten degrees, capfuls of water, capfuls of jungle, contagious, telling stories, hiding stories, what they are really about, because he was done with Puerto Rico, done with Vietnam, because America was done with him, when he came home people protesting everywhere, made no associations to him, he was no hero or savior or anything like that, even though his small towel that he used as a headband or to wash or to dry could have been his cape, and maybe this is why I want his stories to be true, so he could be important, because maybe he saved people, heroic, or flew planes or was flown, either way it doesn’t matter because in his mind he’s everywhere, but it does matter, because all of my stories are true and maybe I get it from him, or maybe not but every time he splits open, contagious, trauma everywhere like a stain, on the jungle floor, the living room floor, all over his medals, his cape, and because he was also dark, so less respect, rage rage rage rage rage rage rage rage rage rage rage rage and its equivalent fury, at 1969 or 1970, whichever one, man on the moon no cure to trauma, no cure for his mistreatment, though torture was worse, or maybe they were equal, since torture manufactures itself in different forms, but either way, everywhere, bombs, no parade, no streamers, no jungle, no rice. (Pg 61)

Telomeres is a beautiful book. Its elegant prose lays bare the generational consequences of violence. Perhaps not always an easy read, it is nonetheless a necessary read. Oquendo gives voice to an intimate perspective on war writing—what happens on the home front, many years after the battles have ended? How is violence passed down to children, and how do those children accept or fight their fate? What is a family and how do we define ourselves within such a tenuous, sometimes dangerous, structure?

To this day he swears my memories are false, would tear these pages if he read them. Eventually I stopped trying, full of tears, to convince him that there isn’t a boulder big enough to hide time under, and that truth isn’t theoretical. We both shove things down, far into our stomachs, and neither of us want to remember. I inherited lies from my father, and we digest them, along with truth, in pieces. (Pg29)

These are questions posed by this stunning memoir. Perhaps the answers are elusive, but we’re a species that often prizes the question over its solution. Humans love a puzzle and Telomeres delves into one of the most intriguing of all—the inherent trauma of human relationships.

MR Sheffield

MR Sheffield lives in South Florida with her husband, son, two dogs, and a recalcitrant cat. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Florida Review, Epiphany, and other publications. Her manuscript, we are the blood, was a finalist for the 2015 Tarpsulin Sky Book Prize.

Nicole Oquendo


Nicole Oquendo is a writer, educator, and editor interested in multimodal compositions and translations of nonfiction and poetry. She is a member of the Sundress Publications Board of Directors, as well as an Assistant Editor for Flaming Giblet Press, the Nonfiction Editor of The Florida Review, and the Nonfiction Editor of the annual Best of the Net anthology. Her essays and poetry can be found in CutBank, DIAGRAM, Gulf Stream, and The Southeast Review, among others. She is the author of the chapbooks some prophets and self is wolf, the hybrid memoir Telomeres, and the visual poetry collection we, animals.


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