Under the Feet of Jesus: 2a Novel

Helene M. Viramontes, Author
Helene M. Viramontes, Author Dutton Books $18.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-525-93949-8
Reviewed on: 04/03/1995
Release date: 04/01/1995
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-452-27387-0
Open Ebook - 192 pages - 978-1-101-06679-9
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 192 pages - 978-1-101-06965-3
Open Ebook - 192 pages - 978-1-101-07823-5
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This first novel adds another important chapter to the existing body of literature about the Mexican-American experience. Viramontes (The Moths and Other Stories), who teaches at Cornell, does not offer deep characterization or psychological complexity here. Instead, working firmly in the social-realist vein of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, she paints a harrowing ensemble portrait of migrant laborers in California's fruit fields. The family of 13-year-old Estrella, and the others with whom they travel and work, burn under 109-degree heat until the backs of their necks sting; women nurse their babies in the backs of pickups. Viramontes depicts this world with a sensuous physicality, as when Petra, Estrella's mother, digs a fingernail into the melting tar of a blacktop highway. And the close quarters in which her characters are forced to live promotes a collective intimacy that Viramontes evokes with a sure hand, conveying the solace to be found in solidarity while never losing sight of the fact that these people enjoy absolutely no privacy. Slow and wandering at the outset, the novel picks up after a small plane releases a white shower of deadly pesticide, which washes over the face of Alejo, a teenager who is perched in a peach tree, busy stealing the soft, ripe fruit. Alejo is drenched with poison, much to the horror of Estrella, who has fallen in love with him. Alejo becomes sick with what the migrants call ``dano of the fields''--so sick that the de facto leader of the workers wants to leave him behind. But Estrella makes it her mission to help save him, and she is driven to great sacrifice in order to do so. Into this unforgiving world, Viramontes pours archetypal themes of the passage of time, young love, the bonds and tensions between generations and, above all, the straining of the spirit to transcend miserable material conditions. (Apr.)
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