IN THE YUCATAN by Earl Shorris


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A short but grueling novel in which an insurgent union leader jailed for organizing watches his Mexican-American lawyer starve himself..

The lawyer, John Mendoza, had come with his Maya wife Dolores to the Yucatán without any thought of political involvement. But when he saw the primitive conditions under which the villagers of Sac May worked in the henequen plant of powerful ex–provincial governor Cancho Puerto, and heard about their shockingly low daily wages, he agreed to help village leader Andrés Chay organize on behalf of the Sindicato de Trabajadores Agriculturas Maya (STAM), opposing the entrenched, ineffectual, corrupt Sindicato de Obreros Mexicanos (SOM), whose local strongman, Carlos Vega Poot, kept it securely under the thumbs of the government and henequen growers like Cancho Puerto. Now Andrés and John, caught in a trap sprung at a negotiating session, both languish in prison, and John, a big man with a short temper, has quixotically declared a hunger strike to protest his illegal arrest. As the days wear on and he begins to waste away, the friends discuss the fate of the 21 strikers kept in another part of the jail, banter over the salary Andrés will owe John on their release, and wonder whether they can trust persistent journalist Roger Coronado, who says he wants to publish their story to the world. Shorris (Latinos, 1992, etc.) shows John standing up to sadistic police chief Tony Puuch Can, but gradually weakening as he begins to dream day and night, bringing dead writers, revolutionaries, and heroes of myth to life. To counter the crippling isolation of their cell, Andrés teaches John a few words in Maya as he watches his “twin” inch closer to death and wrestles with himself over whether he can put an end to John’s self-torment.

A doggedly earnest parable salted with the legendary cadences of the Maya.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-393-04921-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2000


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