QUESADILLAS by Juan Pablo Villalobos


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A political allegory aims for pointed satire but settles for slapstick farce.

The author (Down the Rabbit Hole, 2012) writes of a poor family that thinks of itself as middle class, living in a region where “there are more cows than people, more charro horsemen than horses, more priests than cows, and the people like to believe in the existence of ghosts, miracles, spaceships, saints and so forth.” All of this figures into the narration of a man remembering his boyhood of 25 years earlier, when he was 13 and the second oldest in a family subsisting totally on quesadillas. The cheap meal provides the titular metaphor for the family’s condition and has a wide range of quality and implications: “The normal quesadillas were the ones we would have eaten every day if we lived in a normal country—but if we were living in a normal country we wouldn’t have been eating quesadillas and so we also called them impossible quesadillas....Finally you had the poor man’s quesadillas, in which the presence of cheese was literary: you opened one up and instead of adding melted cheese my mother had written the word ‘cheese.’ ” Gentrification arrives, initially with a neighboring family of three from Poland, whose large estate presages the development that will threaten the protagonist’s family’s ramshackle home with demolition. Most of the names in the family are classic Greek, starting with oldest son Aristotle, of whom the narrator complains, “You can’t fight for the truth when your rival’s name is Aristotle.” An exception is a “stoner uncle” known as Pink Floyd, who causes the narrator to lament, “Pink Floyd, how I wish you were here.”

For all that it has to say about the relationship between the few rich and the many poor in Mexico, the writing is neither as clever nor as funny as it seems to think it is.

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-374-53395-3
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2013


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