A plaintive novel of social protest, originally published in Spanish in 1982, whose targets are the oppressive mine owners of northern Mexico and a Catholic Church that condemns its parishioners for daring to dream of better lives. Montemayor, a veteran novelist with impressive academic and literary credentials, structures his fervent tale of one impoverished family's ordeal less as a narrative than as a series of meditations that focus recurring attention on pivotal remembered incidents, emotions, and images. His protagonist, Refugio, a younger son prevented from working in the mines by his father and elder brother, is thus ``saved''--to struggle to support his own growing family, and to bury those whom the mines claim, seeing prefigured in their deaths his own, and those of others yet to be born. Refugio's memories of the demise of his grandfather and namesake (in 1931) are juxtaposed with the emotional experience of losing his beloved brother Antonio (in 1955), and with regularly interpolated burlesques of several sacraments, which express with bitter irony the church's lordly contempt for the body and senses and its injunctions to forgo even minimal pleasures and creature comforts (``May God forgive you for living''). The novel virtually eschews dramatic action (it's almost a shock when Refugio recalls his grandfather's tales of matching wits with Pancho Villa) but attains a haunting reality in its creation of a heat-and-dust- clogged landscape where hills cast shadows as if they're animals, and everything seen suggests the omnipresence of suffocation and death (young Refugio, noting his brother grown old beyond his years, ``felt as if someone were throwing handfuls of dirt in my face''; grandfather Refugio throws stones as far away from him as possible, sensing they'll be part of the weight pressing on him after he is dead and buried). Both less and more than a novel, this moving story--appearing in English for the first time--is given unity and resonance by the intensity of its imagery.