cover image Dreams of the Centaur

Dreams of the Centaur

Montserrat Fontes. W. W. Norton & Company, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03847-7

Set in Mexico at the turn of the century, Fontes's fiercely lyrical second novel (after First Confession) tells of a Mexican family caught up in the Yaqui Indians' struggle against the ruthless dictatorship of President Porfirio Diaz. Alejo Durcal is 16 years old when his father, self-made rancher Jose Durcal, is shot to death immediately after winning a friend's lands in a poker bet. Compelled by a code of vengeance and honor, Alejo kills his father's murderer, turns himself in--and is sentenced to 20 years in prison. There, he discovers that a fellow inmate, Charco, is his half-brother. At this point, the narrative shifts from third-person to Alejo's first-person, as he and Charco are granted permission to serve part of their sentence in the army, guarding Yaqui prisoners and delivering them into plantation slavery. Through Alejo's searing words, we witness the plight of the Yaqui, who suffer beatings, shootings, rapes and mass deportation from their homeland in Sonora to Yucatan. Alejo's strong, loving bond with his mother, Felipa, who rescues him on the battlefield and amputates his wounded leg, pervades the novel, while Felipa's running commentary on male machismo adds a feminist undercurrent. Fontes's grafting of an affecting coming-of-age story onto a grim depiction of a historical tragedy is powerful and noteworthy. Author tour. (Jan.)