Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Road To Tamazunchale

Manuel Ramos

Here's a book review (slightly edited and revised) I did as part of a regular gig on one of Denver's public radio stations, KUVO, 89.3 FM. This review aired July 24, 1992. The book is still available from Bilingual Review Press and, yes, it is still a classic.

Bilingual Review Press has put together a series of books called Clásicos Chicanos - Chicano Classics. Because of this series, readers are provided the opportunity to discover or re-read books published in the late '60s and early '70s that gave credibility to the nascent Chicano literary movement. Included are creative and masterful works such as The Plum Plum Pickers by Raymond Barrio, The Devil in Texas by Aristeo Brito, and Klail City by Rolando Hinojosa.

Any series of Chicano Classics must include The Road to Tamazunchale by Ron Arias. Originally published in 1975, this book has achieved international acclaim and honors [it was nominated for the National Book Award.] Some reviewers have compared it to the best of Latin American literature, while others, such as Eliud Martínez in an introduction to the Third Edition, hailed the book as a harbinger of a great and grand era in Chicano writing.

Almost twenty [now thirty] years after it first appeared, in a limited number of copies printed by the West Coast Poetry Review, the book delights, mystifies, amuses and moves its readers across broad emotional plains. I read it in the past few weeks and it seemed as fresh as anything published this year [1992.]

Please do not deprive yourself of a unique reading experience by jumping to conclusions about this book or the author. It is complex but it tells a fascinating fable that will entertain even the most jaded reader.

The Road to Tamazunchale is the story of Don Fausto, a very old man on the verge of death. From his sickbed in a Los Angeles barrio, Don Fausto embarks on magnificent journey through space and time, across continents and dimensions, a reviewer of his own existence, for sure, but, more than that, he certifies the principles of his life in ways that made me regret that I never met Don Fausto in the flesh.

He travels to Peru and Mexico with a lowriding car thief, a Peruvian shepherd, his teenaged niece, and so many more that it soon becomes clear that at least one theme is that life is nothing more than a series of trips, even if only to the bus stop, but what is important about the trips are not necessarily the destinations but the way one travels, and who one travels with, who are the guides and the guided, and what lessons are learned along the way.

Don Fausto knows he is dying. Yet, he is more concerned about his friends - the lost shepherd, a long way from Peru, trying to herd his flock of sheep along a Los Angeles freeway; or the thousands of undocumented workers who will do anything to come into the United States, even if it means they must act as though they are dead; or his jive-talking wizard apprentice, Mario, the small-time thief.

In the end, when he finally joins his dead wife, whose ghost has been with him through most of the novel anyway, his friends and family celebrate and rejoice, just as he wants. At the wake, people turn into flowers, animals, books, TV sets, in a scene highly reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez, and I make that comparison with the utmost respect for Arias and García Márquez.

What is Tamazunchale? Where does the road lead? Why is there only one way to get there or leave? And why do some people fear it and others embrace it? I leave those questions for you to answer in your own way. Perhaps Don Fausto will help.


Anonymous said...

plum plum pickers was... so long ago, i don't remember. and if i reaqd tamzunchale, i'm damned if i remember. so now i'll go pick up these two volumes and catch up. help! i've fallen behind and i can't keep up.


Raymundo Eli Rojas said...

"Road" was one of the first Chicano novels I read. I was somewhat unprepared for it not knowing what magical realism was at the time. The late Ricardo Aguilar translated the novel into Spanish.

The series that Bilingual Press put out was a good one. I don't know why they stopped it. I was really hoping they republish some of Lalo Delgado's work. I know they also republished Estela Portillo Trambley's book. If I remember correctly it was "Rain of Scorpions and other stories."

I know Alejandro Morales ("The Rag Doll Plagues," "The Brick People")does alot of magical realism, as well as J.L. Navarro ("The Blood Cake Vendor and other stories"). I havn't read her novels, but I think her last two focus on this genre also: Ytxa Maya Murry - "The Conquest."

Yes, "The Plum, Plum Pickers." They also republished that book. The original version was published out of a garage. Note this novel was some five years before "Bless, Me Ultima." In that series they also published a literatura chicaneca novel about a Chicano fleeing to Mexico to avoid the draft during the Korean war. I didn't read it. I think Gordon Kahn was the author. Speaking of Morales, I think his "Bariio on the Edge" was in this series. Also in this series was Tino Villanueva's "Shaking off the Dark." I like Villanueva's poetry. I think you can still fine my review of his book "A Scene from the Movie Giant" online. Ramon Renteria and I published several articles together in the El Paso Times about the movie "Giant" and the book. Renteria was from Marfa, Texas where "Giant" was filmed.

Others in this series:
"Peregrinos de Aztlan" by Miguel Mendez; "The Fifth Horseman" by Jose Antonio Villarreal."

That's all I remember at this time.