First off, joffre, I think it is neither an historical novel nor a "nonfiction novel." It's not an historical novel because (1) he wrote it at the time these events were occurring, so it is only history now, not then. If I wrote a novel set in the War in Syria, right now, it would not be an historical novel. But it might be read as such one hundred years from now. (2) It is not what Capote termed a "nonfiction novel," i.e., journalism, because all the major characters are fictional. Just because it is true to the Mexican Revolution does not make it history, any more than Gone With the Wind is history.
Thank you, Guillermo, for expanding on your thoughts on Zapata. I'd like to ask what your opinion of Villa is. Back in the 1970s, I was associated with a multi-ethnic theatre group in Seattle. (I was the stage manager.) The largest ethnic group was Mexican-American (self-identified in those days as Chicanos). These guys would spontaneously, from time to time, let out a hearty "Viva Villa!" So, naturally, I've always had a positive view of Villa, especially because, given my rebellious nature, I was pleased that Pershing could not catch him. Thoughts?
I was interested in how little the revolutionaries in the novel understood about the political forces swirling about them. They seem to join the fight for purely personal reasons and not to have much comprehension (or even interest) in the larger political picture. Are these guys indigenous? I assumed that they were mestizos. (Please forgive me, Guillermo, if anything I say in my ignorance is offensive. You know that I intend no disrespect to you or your nation.)
The novel that The Underdogs most reminded me of is Salammb˘. Of course the Mexico of one hundred years ago is nowhere near as wildly exotic as Flaubert's Carthage, but it is also very foreign to me. More importantly, neither novel provides much context for its events. I imagine Azuela did not think that they were necessary. (I suppose someone reading Gone With the Wind with somehow no knowledge of the American Civil War would have difficulty understanding the outlines of the conflict strictly from the novel.) Both novels, in my opinion, keep the reader outside, at a distance. I wanted to get closer to Demetrio and understand him more thoroughly as I wanted to understand Matho. Neither novel lets us get very close. In both books, we view a conflict rather dispassionately, and though we may hope for certain outcomes, we mostly watch from afar.
The ending reminded me of the ending of For Whom the Bells Toll. In both cases, the reader is certain that the lead character will not survive, but the novels end before the actual death.
: I've read this and enjoyed it pretty well.
: Question: is this a historical novel or is
: it a non-fiction novel?
: I'm sure certain aspect of it are
: fictionalized, i.e. completely untrue to
: history; but I imagine the same can be said
: of In Cold Blood. It doesn't seem right to
: call it historical since it was begun during
: events the author was present at.
: By the way, Sterling, you said you'd never
: read In Cold Blood. I avoided it for years,
: suspicious of the whole non-fiction novel
: business, but I really enjoyed it.
: The introduction discussed issues of
: translation, particularly about the title.
: Even before reading that, the title bugged
: me. I thought of The Downtrodden. I think it
: sounds good, but I'm not sure it's right.
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