First English edition of a 1969 novel by the renowned Mexican author (Tinisima, 1996): a fictionalized life of a soldadera who followed the Mexican Revolution’s soldiers on campaign that reads like a poorly edited oral biography.
The story is based on the experiences of Jesúsa Palancares de Aguilar, a cantankerous old woman in her 80s when Poniatowska, an experienced journalist, interviewed her. She presents Jesúsa’s lengthy narrative with almost no historical or social framework, apparently assuming readers’ intimate knowledge of the Revolution’s politics and warring factions. Even Poniatowska’s introduction to this edition provides little beyond her impassioned description of Jesúsa’s poverty in the 1960s, when the interviews were conducted. Perhaps something is lost in the translation, or maybe time has softened the urgency of Jesúsa’s plight. Certainly her experiences could be the raw material for a great historical novel: her mother dead, five-year-old Jesúsa is left with a shiftless, philandering father whose one act of kindness is making her a doll from a dead squirrel. She accompanies him when he goes off to fight with General Venustiano Carranza and is forced at age 14 to wed a 17-year-old soldier who beats her repeatedly. Jesúsa describes the day-to-day difficulties and atrocities of life during the Revolution but rarely comments on its political aspects. Captured by the Zapatistas, she's escorted home by Zapata himself, whom she describes as “a good-hearted man [not] interested in being president like all the rest.” Pancho Villa fares less well: “He didn’t fight like a man . . . that Villa was an ape.” Jesúsa’s travails and privations following the Revolution culminate in her espousal of a bizarre brand of spiritualism, the Obra Espiritual, that encompasses her belief in reincarnation. She claims she was an evil queen in an earlier existence and accepts this life’s miseries as her just punishment.
Ho-hum as either fiction or history.