In the Yucatan

Earl Shorris, Author W. W. Norton & Company $23.95 (263p) ISBN 978-0-393-04921-3
Better known for his numerous nonfiction titles (Latinos: A Biography of the People; A Nation of Salesmen; New American Blues; etc.), this time around Shorris tries his hand at Latin mysticism and political commentary in fictional form. John Mendoza is a Mexican-American lawyer who marries a Maya woman and becomes involved in local politics. Andr s Chay is a traditional Maya leader and mystic who enlists Mendoza's help when the pig farmers of the village of Sac May in the Yucat n peninsula mount a strike and attempt to start a Maya worker's union, independent of the corrupt Sindicato de Obreros Mexicanos. Twenty-one strikers, and then Mendoza and Chay, are tricked into jail, and in a fit of anger Mendoza swears to go on a hunger strike until all the strikers are freed. The narrative focuses on jail-cell conversations between the Maya mystic and the American lawyer about love, loyalty and courage, and is intercut with romantic flashbacks, sociopolitical commentary and scenes of torture, dysentery and death by starvation. Although the language is often powerful and poetic (""She was too young to speak words; she spoke to him through the dimple beside her mouth on the left side, above her heart""), the book has several flaws. The first-person narrator, Chay's cousin Ak, is superfluous; implausibly, no one goes to the American consulate until 36 days after American citizen Mendoza is detained; and the ending is too abrupt. One cannot help comparing this novel to Manuel Puig's The Kiss of the Spider Woman, another story of two men bonding in prison. Shorris's novel is impressively steeped in Maya culture and unflinching in its depiction of Mexican provincial political abuses but, in failing to establish credibility, it shortchanges the reader. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2000
Release date: 05/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 266 pages - 978-0-393-34202-4
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-393-07316-4
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