THE ISTHMUS by Bruce Stores

THE ISTHMUS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Stores (Christian Science, 2004) explores the history of Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec in this short story collection.

The author presents fictionalized accounts of five centuries worth of invasions, rebellions, and elections in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec—a region of Mexico long renowned for its unique culture and fiercely independent spirit. The stories range from Zapotec peasants receiving Aztec merchants in Tehuantepec in 1495, to the city of Juchitán establishing local, leftist autonomy in the 1980s. In these tales, the isthmus is a place of passions and legends, with a long history of exploitation by outsiders; as Mexico-based author Nancy Davies writes in her foreword, it “historically has been an area of conflict, like all geographic areas that serve as crossroads, trade routes, and strategic guardians for empires made or in the making.” Stores’ tales take readers through these many conflicts, from the final free days of the Zapotec Binni gula’sa’ people to the Spanish conquest, through the Rebellion of 1660 and the French intervention two centuries later, up to the Mexican Revolution and the clashes between national and local parties in the second half of the 20th century. The 11 stories, along with supplementary materials, offer a glimpse at this little-visited area of Mexico, where the gulf is closest to the Pacific Ocean. Stores is a capable writer, adeptly handling the shifting languages and cultures that enter and exit the narratives. His characters sometimes feel a bit flat, as their emotional complexity is generally secondary to their participation in significant events; the didactic aim of the book reveals itself in long passages of historical exposition. This is less a book of historical fiction than one that uses fiction as a tool to teach history. Once readers realize this, however, the collection becomes quite enjoyable, as the landscapes, cultures, and clashes are engaging and likely unknown to most English-language readers. The comprehensive historical coverage persuasively contextualizes the troubles and political desires of the region’s modern population. Like every contemporary place, it continues to experience a long, difficult birth.

A rich, fictionalized account of a little-known region’s past and present.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1440174889
Page count: 392pp
Publisher: iUniverse
Program: Kirkus Indie
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