Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Review: The Uncomfortable Dead. Taibo and Subcomandante Marcos

Michael Sedano

The Uncomfortable Dead. (What's Missing is Missing)

A Novel by Four Hands
Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos. NY: Akashic Books, 2006. ISBN: 1-933354-07-0

Translation by Carlos Lopez.

Not that it really matters, but I wonder how this reads in Spanish?

"Soon as I got to the town I talked to the rep, whose name is Genaro and who is or was the husband of the deceased Maria. Well, she ain't deceased, not yet anyway. That's what we had to find out. So General told me that she went out for firewood and that later, well, she didn't come back again. Didya look for her? Yes! Ya didn't find her? No! He said how if he'd found her he wouldn't've called Headquarters. That was three weeks ago. So why didn't he call then? Cause there was still a chance she'd turn up. So, did he know which way she headed? No! Maybe she was taken by the Army or the paramilitaries and she was already deceased. Who was going to make his pozol and his tortillas? And who was going to take care of the kids?

So I says goodbye to Genaro, thinking how he was more worried about who was going to do his cooking than about the deceased, or not, Maria, and thinking that what he was remembering was not that he loved her or nothing like that, but all the work she did around the house and all." (19)

The speaker is Elias Contreras--not his real name--a Zapatista detective. The dialect he's using fits the Chiapas backwoods where Elias has gone to solve a missing person case. Subcomandante Marcos himself commissioned the case. The EZLN is poised to condemn government kidnaping and torture of Zapatista women, and El Sup wants Elias to make sure of the woman's fate.

But this is not the story the drives The Uncomfortable Dead. Maria's disappearance is one small background detail like so many that enrich this "four handed" novel. This is Subcomandante Marcos' hand, the Elias story. Rural characters. Lethal situations from Mexico's southernmost border. Dialect writing. Country and city. Alternating chapters, the odd numbers.

The second half of the novel, the even numbered chapters, is Taibo's. Hector Belascoaran Shayne is on a case involving mysterious politically charged voicemail messages from a dead man. There's a generous helping of government corruption, murder, and a delicious taste of the absurd. An Osama Bin Laden imposter is in actuality a chilango taco vendor employed by the CIA to make propaganda tapes to dupe the United States and world audience.

The Uncomfortable Dead is a mystery, so telling more is to spoil the fun the authors have in this collaborative romp. Marcos holds his own against the masterful Taibo. The novel is not a competition. From Taibo, acknowledgement of the correctness of Marcos' cause. From Marcos, an hommage to noir satire and a restrained political hand.

Together, the authors fashion a fun bundle of interlocking events and characters. They write well together. The indio comes up to The Monster--Mexico City--to learn city ways and be the conduit between Subcomandante Marcos and Shayne. The point of convergence between the two detectives will have readers laughing out loud at the fun of conjoined perspectives: The indio feels grateful having a warm city hat in the January air; in his chapter, Shayne chuckles at the outdated chapeau.

The United States reader will glean insight into Zapatista logic and sensibility, but will likely miss any significance in most of the Mexican names. Zedillo, Salinas, Fox, PRI and PRD will be familiar, but the large cast of henchmen, ministers, and petites bourgeoises only add to the flavor of authenticity. Travelers who enjoy el Defie will enjoy Taibo's and Marcos' celebration of the city, and will recognize the smog and the forests of television antennae. A reader who comes to the novel with more than a passing familiarity with contemporary Mexico, will find The Uncomfortable Dead doubly rewarding. Taibo and Marcos have come up with a highly involving detective yarn that anyone will find accessible and delightful.

The publisher, Akashic Books, has an impressive lineup of titles, attractively priced. Because many of the authors may be lesser-known to the U.S. reader, gift givers will find it useful to explore Akashic's other titles.


Look for information on Dagoberto Gilb's new anthology, Hecho en Tejas. Con jota y todo, don't blame me, asi vino.

Happy birthday Sol. Rumor has it that La Bloga's bloguera Gina MarySol Ruiz recently earned a couple of choruses of las mañanitas.

Speaking of a girl child, my granddaughter, Charlotte, joined the family December 2 at 7:05 p.m.

Here we were expecting a Christmas baby. December 2d's more than perfect!

See you next week.



Anonymous said...

Great review!! Can't wait to read my copy now!

Congratulations on the baby girl born in La Guadalupe/Tonantzin's month. Que padre ser abuelo, no? Welcome little Charlotte, bienvenida a la luz as my abuela used to say.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with a jota in the name? I always thought it was Tejano music not Texano music myself. I guess the PC people are after Dago.

BTW isn't the word "Dago" a slur for italians. Watch your step, there are a lot of cow patties out there.

Anonymous said...

It is TeJano, not Texano--which probably doesn't exist.

And he pronounces it with a Spanish accent. Dago, like mago.