A mystical, dreamlike treatment of bandit Villa (1877-1923)--narrated by an old male witch, Popoca, a friend of the Arango family. When he is seven, Doroteo Arango, a part-Indian boy with a girl's name (his mother was trying to outwit fate), sees his father drop dead while working in a field, Without a breadwinner, the family lives in rockbottom poverty in their CanatlÃ¡n village. The boy leaves home and joins some bandits but abandons their life when they prove unbearably cruel; he gets a job as clerk-on-horseback for a backwoods store, sees the Diaz government's hirelings rob and overtax his employer out of business; and at 16 he shoots the landlord who rapes his young sister Martina. Jailed, he escapes, goes into the hills and assumes the name of an old bandit, Francisco Villa. The new Villa believes his enemy is the nebulous horror of the Diaz government, whose rule is a nightmare from which no one is Mexico can awake. In fact, everyone in the novel is half-convinced that life is a bad peyote dream--but Villa is set on resisting illusion and later even strives to overcome his ignorance by learning to whisper the sounds of printed words. As a bandit he steals from the rich, gives to the deserving poor, and is a saint of generosity--though at the expense of his soul. He joins a big bandit gang, later becomes a cavalryman, finds a talent for organizing soldiers, and sides with Francisco Madero's rebellion against Diaz. After many battles and the revolution's success, he crosses the vicious General Huerta, who jails him, but when Madero allows him to five, he breaks jail and flees to El Paso. And so it goes, back with a new army to triumph in Mexico City, his many rivalries, friendship with Zapata, an arrogant invasion of New Mexico. Finally the Carranza government pardons Villa, and he retires to his ranch--where he spends three uncomfortable years before being assassinated in his car. Despite the vast factuality of the novel, it is written on smoke, each imaginative detail cadenced and reflected on a blood-spattered mirror of black stone. Villa as ascetic visionary--in Shorris' best novel by far, a sure and eloquent fable.