In this novel, a Mexican-American teenager rides across the United States in search of adventure and purpose in the late 1960s.
In defiance of his father’s wish that he enroll in college, Tino Caballero decides to take a long trip on his motorcycle—nicknamed “Rocinante” after Don Quixote’s horse—with his older brother, Sal, a Catholic priest. Tino feels inferior to Sal and his other sibling, Val, and believes that his father favors them both over him. His plan is to end his tour of America by enlisting for a tour in the U.S. Marines, which in 1968 means that he’ll likely be shipped off to Vietnam, but for him, the risk of death is worth the reward of honor. The cross-country trip is an eventful one—Tino and Sal encounter a hungry mountain lion, tarantulas, and plenty of seething racism as they travel through the South. For Tino, the journey is especially momentous: he loses his virginity, samples drugs for the first time, and flees bigoted Texas Rangers. Both he and Sal spend an evening in jail voluntarily—apparently, as a way to avoid hotel expenses. Tino later has a symbol-laden epiphany while under the influence of LSD, in which his great-grandfather, dead for 100 years, appears to him. The young man must then decide what precisely he wants out of life, and what kind of man he wants to become. García-Dávila (Profiles, 2014) provocatively mirrors Tino’s own crisis of identity with the nation’s, setting it during one of its most tempestuous decades. The plot is based on a true story drawn from the author’s own life, but it’s a meandering tale, and it often reads like a series of disconnected events. The author does poignantly render Tino’s inner struggle, as when the young man talks about the possibility of going to war in Vietnam: “If I don’t make it back, I’ll die a hero….Better that than a bum and a shame to the family.” Overall, though, the book could have been considerably shorter, and the narrative tighter, without losing anything essential.
An intelligently conceived but unfocused historical novel.