Thursday, March 02, 2017

Chicanonautica: Witches and Vampires in Mexico City

by Ernest Hogan

Tenochtitlán, that is known to Western Civilization as Mexico City, is one of the lost (in that Gringolandia does its best to ignore its existence) metropolises of North America, is our planet's largest urban complex, was founded by the Aztecs, and is teeming with universes of mythology on streets where you find the true meaning of magic realism. I'm a bit obsessed. I wrote a book about it. I like to read books about it. The first two novels of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination,” delighted me.

Signal to Noise, a Copper Cylinder Award winner, is about witches in Mexico City, coming of age in the Eighties and Nineties while reveling in now obsolete technology – note the iconic audio casette on the cover – and pre-corporate pop cultures, both Mexican and American. The witchcraft rings true with my own researches into the subject – Mexico/Aztlán is the Transylvania of this continent – and the book has a far more realistic feel than most other books on the subject. I wonder what a nongenre reader stumbling on it without the usual prejudices would think . . . based on a true story? Could be, in Tenochtitlán.

Certain Dark Things is one of NPR's Best Books of 2016, and is dedicated to Germán Robles, who played handsome vampires in old, black and white Mexican movies. These vampires aren't fashionable sparkling, romantic masturbation fantasies. They are an impressive, imaginative, ingenious work of world-building that includes not only Aztec-descended vampires, but diverse tribes and
species from all over the planet that can give any other fictional blood-suckers a run for their money. And they hold up when shown next to gritty, modern realities, and remind me more of walking Tenochtitlán's streets among the blind beggars, fire-eaters, and snake-charmers than watching old movies. I personally would like to see more of these characters and this world.

I highly recommend both these books, realizing that they are outside the usual white middle-class comfort zone of the New York publishing industry. They may disturb those looking for light reading, and the characters aren't “likable” suburbanites. But reading about them makes me smell Mexico City, which makes me homesick and fires the imagination.

I think that's a good thing.

And later this year, Moreno-Garcia has another book coming out, The Beautiful Ones!

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