Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Review: The Scorpion's Tail by Sylvia Torti

Willimantic CT: Curbstone Press, 2005. ISBN 1-931896-17-8

Michael Sedano

"After we told our stories we huddled over a map of the world and we saw that Chiapas was like a scorpion's tail at the bottom of Mexico. We understood that we had the power to whip around and sting those who had been stepping on us for so long." (88)

This is Chan Nah K'in's adolescent fantasy as she grows into a Zapatista warrior woman, ready to take on the Mexican Army and win back her forest home.

"Listen," she told them. "I saw a bunch of super-poor people go up against the Mexican military and essentially, they got stomped on. You call that a great movement?" "But the symolism and energy of it must have been immense from that perspective!" This is Amy, railing at the philosophy circle who have taken on study of Chiapas after Amy's eyes are ripped open by the Mexican Army's brutal treatment of all who fall into the army's cross-hairs.

Sylvia Torti has created a fascinating glimpse into shifting perspectives revolving around the cultural flux that surrounds Mexico's Zapatista movement. There is Chan Nah K'in, a Hach Winik child telling her story in the first person; Amy, the entomologist; Pablo, the rich kid ornithologist; Mario, the soldier.

Torti's unsettling story cannot have a happy ending, though she attempts to fashion one out of Amy's emotional dregs. The indigena teenager returns to her forest where she seems able to fashion some sort of personal and cultural survival. Pablo seems to think his closeted gayness will find freedom in Utah. Mario, spineless soldado, seems headed for el norte. And as the novel concludes, Amy is packing for a trip to Guatemala, following a reassuring conversation with Parker, the guy who got her into all that caca in Mexico:

"Probability of civil war?"
"Remote like Mexico or remote like Canada?"
He laughed. "Not as remote as Canada."
"And is there a clean toilet?"
"I'll clean it myself."
"Then I'll come."

La Bloga readers might recall The Tattooed Soldier to gain a fuller appreciation of the irony underlying Amy's banter with Parker. And yes, the two share an unrelieved romantic tension sure to pop up in Guatemala.

Readers who want guerilla action would do well to read B. Traven's jungle series from seventy years past. Torti's focus is emotion and cultural shock. Much as Amy resents the "intellectualizing" of the Zapatista rebellion, her book can be only that, given herself and her reader. With that noted, The Scorpion's Tail makes a valiant attempt to get under the skin of interesting characters and a story that has faded from the headlines, and shouldn't. Finally, the novel won the publisher's 2005 Marmol Prize for Latina Latino First Fiction, it's likely many readers will not recognize Sylvia Torti's name. But that's easily corrected.

That's this week for me. Les huarache next week.


No comments: