THE CAMPAIGN

With this first volume of a projected trilogy about 19th-century revolutionary Spanish America, the prolific Fuentes (Constancia, 1990; Christopher Unborn, 1989; etc.) offers a baggy, robust tale about a political kidnapping and its human consequences. Baltasar Bustos, the son of a wealthy Argentine ranch owner, is influenced by Rousseau and the political anti-Royalist climate in 1810 to "turn books into action." He kidnaps the newborn child of a presiding judge of the Supreme Court, the Marquis of Cabra, but in so doing glimpses the Marquise, Ofelia Salamanca, and falls in love with her. Bustos then spends the rest of the story trying to redeem himself by searching first for the kidnapped child, sent away to live the life of a prostitute's child, and then searching for the Marquise when she too disappears. Against this backdrop, Fuentes offers a gallery of straw dogs and mouthpieces who speak for one side or the other as the absolutist Catholic empire of Spain struggles against both principled revolutionaries, who want to create "a rationalist, liberal, and perhaps Protestant freedom," and against various other factions—mestizos and various cutthroats. Meanwhile, Bustos, immersed in a "political and moral anguish" beyond "the immediate division between mine and yours," changes stripes frequently, either to survive or to disguise his true purpose—finding the Marquise—until his search becomes "celebrated" and an aura of myth accumulates around him and the Marquise, who, he eventually learns, is herself a revolutionary double-agent. Exasperatingly expository and episodic—but, still, Fuentes manages to persuade us of the Spanish-American rationale for a continuing revolution and to explore (very unsystematically) the "possibility of establishing a relationship with God through language.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-374-11828-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1991

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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