This historical novel traces the real and imagined exploits of Pancho Villa as a youth, bandito, and hero of the revolution while examining the question of what, exactly, constitutes truth in storytelling.
MacKenzie spins his debut tale in language spiced with just the right hint of a Latin lilt to lend verisimilitude and poetic cadence: “The sky was not clearer then nor was the air of a purer smell but in my memory both these things seem as though they were true and so they are.” This theme of a story being true because of the way it is remembered or told runs throughout; and so we see Villa as everything from abused peasant to brutish thug to fair and respected leader. When barely 16, Villa walks in on a confrontation between his mother and sister and landowner Don Agustín López Negrete. He shoots Don Agustín and escapes into the inhospitable sierra, thus launching him into a world outside the law. During his criminal career, he steals cattle, shoots people, achieves daring escapes, and, depending on what versions you believe, becomes everything from Robin Hood to a sociopath. His fellow bandits are Refugio Alvarado and Ignacio Parra. Ignacio is a drunk, but Refugio, an eloquent speaker who can rouse the peasants against the dons, gives Villa his first inkling of a political outlook on their activities. At last Villa wearies of his brigand life and opens a butcher shop. But the peace is short-lived. He is soon back on the run and assumes his role as a commander of the Constitutionalist Army in the Mexican Revolution, where he now commits noble acts such as sparing the life of the man who killed his mother. MacKenzie’s fascinating literary picaresque is told in stark, beautiful imagery: “The night was vacant and dull, the square silent save for the insects that clicked and chirped back up in the trees like little boxes of metal and bone.”
At once original, poignant, brutal, and beautiful; for fans of literary and historical novels.