cover image The Old Gringo

The Old Gringo

Carlos Fuentes. Farrar Straus Giroux, $14.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-374-22578-0

Fuentes, Mexico's leading novelist (author of Terra Nostra), invents here a lyrical and philosophical tale about the times of Pancho Villa and the Revolution in Mexico. The old gringo of the title is Ambrose Bierce, the Ameican journalist and writer who disappeared in the Mexican dust. Bierce went to Mexico to die, Fuentes speculates, because he could not bear to reflect on the pain and sacrifices his sanctimonious moral rectitude had caused his family. He joins the troops of the young revolutionary Tomas Arroyo, one of Villa's generals, who, as a ""child of misfortune'' (``bastard'' in the servant quarters) was trapped in the hacienda and is now trapped by the revolution. Both the old gringo and the young revolutionary fall in love with Harriet Winslow, an American who had come to Mexico as teacher for the children on a hacienda which no longer exists, having been burned by the revolutionaries. Fuentes examines the borders between men and women, dreams and reality, Mexico and the U.S. (``a scar'' rather than a border). Doomed never to understand each other, the two men inevitably die as they cross the frontier of their differences: the old gringo killed by Arroyo (whom he provoked by burning the papers of the history of Mexico) and Arroyo, in his turn, shot by Villa for overstepping his boundaries of power. In this fine short novel, Fuentes remains, as usual, wisely suspicious of both American politics and those of the Revolution. The problem here is that the author's posturing, his dramatic flourishes, never let us forget that this is all fakean invention, a meditation. November