MEXICAN BOLERO by Angeles Mastretta


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A debut novel that focuses on the adjustments--sometimes subversive, sometimes less than heroic--made by a ruthless Mexican politico's wife. Catalina Guzmán is 15 years old in 1929, when she marries General AndrÉs Ascencio, who, in Mexico's postrevolutionary era, is busy consolidating power and wealth. Ascencio becomes Governor of Puebla and then (as close advisor to the President) the power behind the throne, never hesitating to buy off or eliminate troublesome rivals, workers, or peasants. In short, he's one of those violent, larger-than-life figures familiar in Latin American fiction. What's remarkable and insightful here is the picture of life with the villain/hero seen through the eyes of his wife, who--once she gets past the early accounts of her introductions to sex, cooking, and family history--becomes a compellingly authentic and original character. Neither a victim nor a feminist superheroine, Catalina works tirelessly as her husband's political accomplice but quietly provides jobs, money, and sympathy to the families he devastates; she speaks up for the oppressed and keeps secrets for the opposition, but often turns to self-indulgence when knowledge of Ascencio's atrocities is too much to bear; she escapes into romantic intrigue, adultery, and gossip. No magical realism here--Catalina is too busy with the nitty-gritty details of her life and with her complex attachment to a never entirely unloved monster. One of the most interesting recent novels from Latin America, though readers with minimal interest in the region may find it slow going at times. Mastretta eschews well-worn paths and emerges as a welcome new voice.

Publisher: Viking