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The Sons of El Rey



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About The Book

“This is a knockout.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
One of the Today Show’s Most Anticipated Books of 2024 • One of Time’s New Books to Read this Summer • One of the Los Angeles Times’s Books You Need to Read this Summer
“A masterful exploration of a family reckoning with its most sacred secrets. Mesmerizing and unflinching, Espinoza’s luchadores will wrestle their way deep into your heart.” —Patricia Engel, New York Times bestselling author

A timeless, epic novel about a family of luchadores contending with forbidden love and secrets in Mexico City, Los Angeles, and beyond.

Ernesto Vega has lived many lives, from pig farmer to construction worker to famed luchador El Rey Coyote, yet he has always worn a mask. He was discovered by a local lucha libre trainer at a time when luchadores—Mexican wrestlers donning flamboyant masks and capes—were treated as daredevils or rock stars. Ernesto found fame, rapidly gaining name rec­ognition across Mexico, but at great expense, nearly costing him his marriage to his wife Elena.

Years later, in East Los Angeles, his son, Freddy Vega, is struggling to save his father’s gym while Freddy’s own son, Julian, is searching for professional and romantic fulfillment as a Mexican American gay man refusing to be defined by stereotypes.

With alternating perspectives, Ernesto and Elena take you from the ranches of Michoacán to the makeshift colonias of Mexico City. Freddy describes life in the suburban streets of 1980s Los Angeles and the community their family built, as Julian descends deep into our present-day culture of hook-up apps, lucha burlesque shows, and the dark underbelly of West Hollywood. The Sons of El Rey is an intimate portrait of a family wading against time and legacy, yet always choosing the fight.


1. Ernesto Vega ERNESTO VEGA
A friend once told me the dead tell the best lies. I will try to be honest even though I never learned how.

No, I wasn’t born a luchador. I was shaped into one by circumstance, by a life lived without tenderness or sympathy, by my father’s beatings when I was a boy, his constant attempts to toughen me up, to make me a man. Un hombre valiente, he’d say. El Rey Coyote was my lucha libre persona. The long and flowing cape with its wide shoulder pads and furry collar, the spandex tights, the boots, and the mask, bright white fabric inlaid with thick gold borders outlining the eyes, nose, and mouth… it was an act and I got lost in it. I can’t be blamed, though. I only wanted to be seen and recognized. And I got my wish; all over Mexico, throngs of people packed those vast stadiums. They stood on their seats, raised their voices. They cheered for him, for me, and I was truly loved. But I didn’t choose to become El Rey Coyote. When I moved to Mexico City with my wife, he found me. We were destined for each other. Either good guy técnicos or bad boy rudos, we do it for la gloria, for the honor, for the sacrifice.

The punches to the stomach, the chest, the groin. The smacks on the back from an opponent or the mat as I leapt from the top cord, pivoting in the air, then falling so hard the sensation sent shocks like bursts of lightning from the base of my spine, up and down the column, from my fingers to my toes. The choke holds. Broken noses. Head injuries. Busted lips. Black eyes. Cracked fingers. Snapped wrists. Pulled tendons. Hands yanking my hair and twisting my arms. Legs wrapping around my neck, crushing my larynx, nearly suffocating me. Boot soles stomping my face. Scratch. Punch. Pound. Break. Blood running. Always the blood running.

Yes, the feuds are scripted, penned to hype up the drama, to get the audiences invested in our characters, to keep them coming back. And even though the fights are choreographed to avoid injuries, they still happen. Some think it’s all fake, but they’re wrong. You just need to look to our bodies for proof.

Like me, it was circumstance that led my son, Alfredo, to follow in my footsteps and become a luchador. Unlike me, it was his choice to do so. This was the 1980s, so all everyone talked about besides nuclear war with the Rusos was Satanic messages hidden in songs, cocaine, and teen suicide. After his mother died back when he was in high school, he started drinking, smoking mota, getting into car wrecks, and nearly killing himself.

Something needed to be done, so I got him into the ring and trained him in the tradition of lucha libre. That changed him, and he surpassed even my expectations. He followed in my footsteps, donned boots, tights, and a cape with bright colored stones. He covered his identity in a mask of shiny fabric adorned with jewels and beads, flashier than mine. As it is in our tradition, he took my name. Alfredo became El Rey Coyote Jr., the toughest luchador in all of Los Angeles. My grandson, Julián, was born to wage a different kind of battle, born to don a different type of mask.

I want to tell them I know how divine it can be, all that fame and adoration, all the ways they crave bodies like ours. But this can also ruin us, lead to our demise.

My children, Alfredo and Mercedes.


Elena, my wife, my only real love.

Even him, that other me, El Rey Coyote.

I want them to know I understand now. I see what parts of us are forever lost in all this beautiful chaos. But I’m more dead than alive at this moment, so it’s too late for me anyway.

About The Author

Photograph by Cat Gwynn

Alex Espinoza was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and raised in suburban Los Angeles. He is the author of the novels Still Water Saints and The Five Acts of Diego León, as well as a book of nonfiction, Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime. Alex teaches at UC-Riverside where he serves as the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair of Creative Writing.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 11, 2024)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668032787

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Raves and Reviews

"Full of powerful unfolding revelations, The Sons of El Rey has claimed its title as the great American lucha libre novel."
—CAROLYN KELLOGG, Pittsburgh-Post Gazette

“The seamlessly interwoven story lines bring each character to vivid life, and Espinoza shines in the lucha libre scenes... This is a knockout.”

“Tender and revelatory… Espinoza's prose hits with raw emotional power.”

“From rural Mexico to Ajusco, the outskirts of Mexico City to Los Angeles, their stories unfold in surprising ways.”

“With shocks of truth and tenderness on every page, The Sons of El Rey is a masterful exploration of a family reckoning with its most sacred secrets. Mesmerizing and unflinching, Espinoza's luchadores will wrestle their way deep into your heart. An absolute knockout of a novel.”
—Patricia Engel, New York Times bestselling author of Infinite Country

"The Sons of El Rey pinned me to the mat with its compelling and moving tale of a multigenerational luchador dynasty. Espinoza delivers a deceptively profound unmasking of the human heart."
—Antoine Wilson, author of Mouth to Mouth

“This warm, engaging, and endearing jaunt through the world of lucha libre joyfully grapples and body-slams its way across borders and decades. The Sons of El Rey is classic Alex Espinoza: a smart and smooth novel that pulls you into its big, rich, and human world. “
Héctor Tobar, author of Our Migrant Souls and the NYT-bestselling Deep Down Dark

“The Sons of El Rey has costume and swagger and performance—fantastically so—but beneath that, it’s a novel about being a mortal, complicated being in a world less generous even than the Lucha Libre arena. Alex Espinoza has written a story that feels both compact and epic about the many lives we live in the secret cloak of our own skin.”
Ramona Ausubel, author of The Last Animal

“Before the glam drama of drag queens, there existed the flamboyant reign of kings like El Rey, an underdog transformed into a superhero. This is the story of a lucha libre dynasty that battles with ghosts and regrets, heroes and humiliations. It is as much the chronicle of a dying Mexican patriarch as it is about his gay grandson, both hiding behind stoic masks. Ultimately, it is a tale about that country called desire.”
Sandra Cisneros, award-winning and bestselling author of The House on Mango Street

“Espinoza has written an epic and transporting novel that follows one family but tells the story of many. This braided epic brims with heart, intelligence, and humor. It's also sexy as hell. The lives of the Vega dynasty twist, turn, and ultimately interlock in a manner that expertly mirrors the grappling bodies of the luchadores depicted here.”
Alejandro Varela, National Book Award finalist and author of The Town of Babylon

“A triumph that’s gripping to the end! This moving tale set in the world of lucha libre unfolds across time, geography and gender, as voices both living and in the spirit world gather around the deathbed of Ernesto Vega, a luchador who fought under the name El Rey Coyote.”
—Janet Fitch, bestselling author of White Oleander and The Revolution of Marina M.

"Alex Espinoza writes with singular grace, humor and deep empathy for his characters who journey between Mexico and California to make new lives, to ache for the past even while tasting the future on their tongues. In The Sons of El Rey, he's given us a powerful sweep of three generations of dreamers through the story of lucha libre as legend, historia and tradition. This family is unforgettable."
—Susan Straight, National Book Award finalist and author of Mecca

"Alex Espinoza's extraordinary new novel unveils a complex world of men thwarting destiny, or getting yoked by it. In language as unsparing as the characters he depicts, The Sons of El Rey is about herculean endurance in the ring, on the streets, at work, in bed, everywhere. It's a rare look at the suffocations and thrills of toxic masculinity told with bravura, tenderness, and great beauty."
—Cristina García, National Book Award finalist and author of Dreaming in Cuban and Vanishing Maps

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