Swarms of butterflies and hummingbirds, a jaguar on a leash, a hero who's writing himself into existence, beneficent ghosts...



Swarms of butterflies and hummingbirds, a jaguar on a leash, a hero who's writing himself into existence, beneficent ghosts of ancestors--all the trappings of post-Borges magic realism are gathered in this undeniably derivative and yet often quite funny, quirky meditation on Mexican-American relations, the politics of epidemics and the uses of history. To pack all that into a mere 200 pages, Morales foreshortens, stylizes, and truncates plots and characters, creating a series of rigid allegorical tableaux with the static vitality and crudeness of a barrio mural. In Book One, Dr. Gregorio Revueltas, a physician sent from Spain to Mexico in 1788 (significant date), seeks a cure for a plague ravaging the colony. Spanish oppression of the natives, the Inquisition's persecution of indigenous curanderos, exacerbate the suffering. Only after the outbreak of the French Revolution does the plague, wrought by microbes and compounded by human stupidity, subside. In Book Two, Chicano doctor Revueltas (ca. 1950-85) works in a southern California barrio clinic where violence, drugs, and AIDS are the names of the plague, again both viral and social in its origins. This chapter is the least satisfactory. AIDS is too close and too complex and Morales hasn't thought about it enough. His lack of grounding even in the medical facts undermines his fantasy. Book Three is set in the late 21st-century world of LAMEX, a rigidly stratified hi-tech society that includes both L.A. and Mexico City. The sci-fi social satire is full of vivid scenes and liberating inventions--every pharmacy, for instance, carries the cures for AIDS and cancer. The plague now is environmental. It comes from the sea, and when it strikes, whole cities perish overnight. Another Dr. Revueltas reads his ancestors' plague-year diaries and, fortified by his sense of the past, discovers not only a cure for this plague but a way to turn the social order upside down, putting the poorest Mexicans on top for a while. Morales (The Brick People, Death of an Anglo--both 1988) offers a novel that exhibits the very qualities it celebrates: energy, hopefulness, a reverence for roots.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1992


Page Count: 200

Publisher: Arte Publico

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1991