cover image Mexico


James A. Michener. Random House Inc, $25 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41649-4

Schematic plotting, tortilla-thin characterizations and lengthy digressions on bullfighting mar this lumbering multigenerational saga about Mexico's resilient spirit, which Michener began in 1961 and returned to 30 years later. Norman Clay, earnest American journalist born and raised in Mexico, is sent to his native city in 1961 to cover a potentially deadly showdown between two famous matadors who represent ``the two faces of Mexico, the Spaniard versus the Indian.'' This bullfight festival, the book's centerpiece, is interwoven with more interesting historical interludes in which Clay grapples with his own mixed heritage. His diverse ancestors include a 16th-century Mexican Indian queen who leads a women's revolt against human sacrifice, a Spanish scholar burned at the stake during the Inquisition, a Franciscan soldier-priest who accompanies Hernan Cortes to Mexico, a Virginia plantation proprietor who loses his wife and sons in the Civil War, and Clay's father, a silver-mine owner who participates in the Mexican Revolution. The colorful novel cuts a wide swath through history but doesn't catch fire as a personal story. BOMC main selection. (Dec.)