Last Train From Cuernavaca
Our public schools traditionally spend little time and effort on either Canadian or Mexican history. Why is that? Consequently, Americans are mostly ignorant of the Mexican Revolution of 1913-14. Because of the dramatic and continued increase in the Hispanic population, how much longer do you think "south of the border" neglect will be tolerated? Can you name the Mexican states? One difficulty has always been keeping straight the numerous factions and players--Madero, Huerta, Diaz, Carranza, Villa, and Zapata--our revolution was simple--British vs. Colonists. Also, note the gender of the players.
With this intricate, suspensful historical novel women's lib has come to Mexican Revolution fiction. The reader is immersed in the lives of two very strong, assertive yet different women thrown together as Revolutions tend to do. The English born Grace Knight, owner of the four star hotel in town and hostess to Mexico’s landed aristocracy, members of the foreign community, wealthy tourists, and young army officers with their wives. Under the ballroom’s hundreds of twinkling electric lights, they dance to old Spanish tunes and to the new beat of ragtime.
In contrast, Outside the city, in the shadows of the valley’s two volcanoes, a company of federal soldiers raids the hacienda of Don Miguel Sanchez, hunting for men sympathetic to the cause of the charismatic rebel leader, Emiliano Zapata. In a hailstorm of rifle fire, sixteen-year-old Angela Sanchez’s life takes a horrifying turn. After the soldiers leave, she returns to the ruins of her family’s home. She collects her father’s old Winchester carbine, gathers the survivors among his workers, and rides off in search of Zapata’s Liberating Army of the South. From now on, she will be known and feared as Lieutenant Angel.
Grace's heartthrob is the hacienda born, upper class federale Captain Rico while Angela's lover is fellow Zapatatista Antonio. Although romance doesn't dominate, it is sufficiently woven throughout the story to wonder whether female readers of this novel might out number males. What? Women and romance in war and revolution? I then thought of Hemingway pulling it off which I don't believe is mere co-incidence. The author's depth of characterization and effort of description are comparable--at times she's that good. Readers may be familiar with her superb 1982 bestseller, Ride The Wind.
It is unavoidable that Grace and the hotel staff can remain unaffected by events--capture, shootings, bombings, Rico incurring the wrath and price on his head from General "fatso" Rubio. Can they all survive? Will Grace and Rico be reunited?
According to the author's afterword, the two women characters are loosely based on real people: a Rosa E. King and Agelina Jimenez. Although both of their memoirs are out of print, King's Tempest Over Mexicoand Those years Of The Revolution, 1910-1920 edited by Esther R. Perez seem available through interlibrary loan and used book sources such as ABE (Antiquarian Book Exchange--http://www.abebooks.com/ ) and Amazon.
As for a good introduction or basic one volume history, the ACHS library recommends Villa And Zapata(2000) by Frank McLynn, The Wind That Swept Mexico: The History Of The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1942 by Brenner & Ross, and The Great Rebellion: Mexico 1905-1924 by Ramon Eduardo Ruiz. Beyond the basics, there is Zapata And The Mexican Revolution by Womack (1970). For the times, one should enjoy The General And The Jaguar: Pershing's Hunt For Pancho Villa by Eileen Welsome and James W. Hurst's Pancho Villa And Black Jack Pershing: The Punitive Expedition In Mexico.
The most acclaimed novel of the Mexican Revolution is The Underdogs (1929) by Mariano Azuela. Guzman's 1928 Eagle And The Serpent is worth a look. Until this novel, I always believed Norman Zollinger's Not Of War Only (1995, Spur Award) as about the best contemporary novel of the upheaval. Now, there are two. 2011 Spur Award winner for best novel. 345 pages. Robert L. Hicks, high school librarian