A historical novel in the vein of John Steinbeck about a long disputed New Mexican territory and the Hispanic and White families that call it home.
This is an admirably ambitious book, with much to say about race, colonialism, civil rights and man’s relation to the earth. The novel focuses, promisingly, on the uneasy relationship between its two strongest characters: Joaquin Peralta, a fiery leader of a community group devoted to winning back the title to land they believe was stolen by gringos from their Mexican and Spanish-settler ancestors; and Joaquin’s stepson Chava Traxler, a half-white, half-Hispanic teenager who comes to question the group’s increasingly militant tactics. However, that story is diluted by the novel’s overly large reach. The characters are too often used as vehicles for exposition and info-dumping, with long speeches about the technical details of the land dispute stemming the flow of the narrative. The point-of-view shifts too often to incidental characters whose lives and thoughts are not fleshed out fully enough to coalesce into true, necessary plotlines. Action is well written, and between all the guns, shooting and storming of properties, there’s lots of it. At times, however, the book reads like a newspaper article dutifully reporting all the facts, rather than inevitabilities that should spin out from the motivations and psyches of the characters. The biggest missed opportunity of the book is Joaquin; despite opening with his point of view, Trafton confusingly moves away from him in the second chapter and never fully returns. Enough groundwork is laid out to suggest an intriguing, charismatic personality on the level of Malcolm X, but readers are deprived of access to Joaquin’s interior thoughts and feelings; the result is an angry, one-note cutout. Chava exhibits greater self-reflection and character development, but in the end he, too, is unable to break free from the novel’s dogged, didactic devotion to its larger sociopolitical themes.
Vivid and well-mapped-out, but ultimately closer to history lesson than novel.