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Category Archive for 'Mexico'

Many readers will argue that this work is not a novel at all. Certainly it does not adhere to the traditional expectations of a novel, no matter how flexible the reader is with definitions. Begun at the end of the 1980s and still unfinished at the time of author Roberto Bolano’s death in 2003, at the age of fifty, The Woes of the True Policeman was always a work in progress, one on which the author continued to work for fifteen years. Many parts of it, including some of the characters, eventually found their way into other works by Bolano, specifically, The Savage Detectives and his monumental 2666. But though it is “an unfinished novel, [it is] not an incomplete one,” according to the author of the Prologue, “because what mattered to its author was working on it, not completing it…Reality as it was understood until the nineteenth century has been replaced as reference point [here] by a visionary, oneiric, fevered, fragmentary, and even provisional form of writing.” As one character discovers, “The Whole is impossible…Knowledge is the classification of fragments,” and Bolano leaves it to the reader – his “true policeman” of the title – to figure it all out.

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Much admired by both Roberto Bolano and by Carlos Fuentes, Mexican author Daniel Sada has now been published in English for the first time by Graywolf Press. Almost Never, “a Rabelaisian tale of lust and longing,” provides a bawdy and mildly satiric look at the whole concept of machismo as it exists in the mid-1940s in Mexico. Sada’s main character, Demetrio Sordo, almost thirty when the novel opens in 1945, grew up in northern Mexico, but he has recently been living near Oaxaca in southern Mexico, working as an agronomist in charge of a large ranch. Bored by the usual nightly “entertainments,” he finally concludes that “Sex was the most obvious option.” Taking a taxi to a local brothel, he meets the beautiful brunette Mireya. His eye-opening relationship with her, graphically described, comes to a temporary stop, however, when he receives a letter from his mother in Parras, asking him to come home at Christmas to accompany her to a wedding in Sacramento, even farther away to the north. There he meet and falls in love with a strictly virginal local girl, Renata. The story with all its complications and bawdy language mocks the pretensions of its characters at the same time that it explains and even, in some cases, tries to justify them in terms of the social context of the period. A new Mexican author of great esteem, now translated into English for the first time.

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Throughout these stories, the reader becomes hypnotized by the succession of Bolano’s images, by the lives he depicts (including his own in the two essays), and by the metaphysical suggestions and possible symbols of his stories, despite the fact that Bolano does not make grand pronouncements or create a formal, organized, and ultimately hopeful view of life as other authors do. There is no coherence to our lives, he seems to say: chaos rules. Although artists of all kinds try to make some sense of life, Bolano suggests that their visions may not be accurate since they have no way of knowing or conveying the whole story, the big picture, the inner secrets of life. He himself avoids such suggestions of order in life. Vibrant and imaginative, Bolano’s stories seduce the reader into and coming back to them again and again looking for answers or explanations that often remain tantalizingly out of reach.

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Mexican author Ignacio Padilla creates characters who move like pawns, as if they were pieces in the chess games which are at the heart of the action here–they are often being overtaken by events and supplanted by other men as part of the grand, overall “game” of life. Padilla raises thought-provoking questions about the nature of selfhood here, as men appropriate each other’s names, accept or reject the past which is connected with those names, and hope, ultimately, to change their destinies by living someone else’s life. The reader must constantly question whether each character is who he says he is, and whether he really is who we think he is. The tight story line maintains its tension, and the author’s ingenuity in manipulating characters and historical events provides constant surprises. The novel is very much an intellectual chess match between author and reader, and in this case, both turn out to be winners.

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Graham Greene’s most elaborate and personal examination of the good life–and the role of the Catholic church in teaching what the good life is–revolves around an unnamed “whiskey priest” in Mexico in the 1930s. Religious persecution is rife as secular rulers, wanting to bring about social change, blame the church for the country’s ills. When the novel opens, the church, its priests, and all its symbols have been banned for the past eight years from a state near Veracruz. Priests have been expelled, murdered, or forced to renounce their callings. The whiskey priest, however, has stayed, bringing whatever solace he can to the poor who need him, while at the same time finding solace himself in the bottle. Pursued by a police lieutenant who believes that justice for all can only occur if the church is destroyed, and by a mestizo, who is seeking the substantial reward for turning him in, the desperate priest finally decides to escape to a nearby state. (To read the full review, click on the title of this excerpt.)

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