DREAMS OF THE CENTAUR by Montserrat Fontes


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Fontes returns to the Durcal family, introduced in her 1990 debut, First Confession. This prequel to the earlier work, which was set in the 1940s, takes place in the northern Mexico state of Sonora from the mid-1880s to the turn of the century, tracing the story of the founder of the family line, Jos‚ Durcal--called El Centauro for his strength of character and body--and his equally determined wife, Felipa. Felipa gives him three sons, the oldest of whom, Alejo, will go on to enjoy a special bond with his mother. When Jos‚ is killed by a jealous, politically connected friend, Alejo avenges his father's death with disastrous results, including a stretch in the subhuman conditions of a provincial prison, an equally punishing but brief stay in the army, and an involvement in unmasking the vicious trade in slaves by plantation owners in the Yucatn. For background--and, often, foreground--Fontes uses the corrupt and racist regime of Porfirio D¡az, which labored mightily to exterminate the Yaqui tribe. Alejo finds himself and his half brother enmeshed in an unsuccessful attempt to avert a huge massacre, an event that Fontes retells with breathtaking pace. Interwoven is the story of Alejo's love for his father's horse, Moro, a horse that almost no one else can ride. But in the novel's center is the relationship between Felipa and Alejo, and Fontes excels in exploring the complex emotional ties between these two. Alejo's travails in the army and after his desertion, told in the first person, drag a bit, Felipa's presence being sorely missed; but the final movement, reuniting son and mother under the most harrowing of circumstances, is satisfying entirely. Despite some longueurs, then: an effective, often exciting piece of storytelling with a powerful central female character.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1996
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton