Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review - The Underdogs : Mariano Azuela 6*

Revolutionary camp outside Ciudad Juárez in 1911Image via Wikipedia Written about events during the Mexican Revolution, this tale follows the exploits of a group of villagers who band together under their local leader Demetrio Macias.  The men seemed to have joined the Revolution not out of ideals, but because a side has to be picked, and a poor working man has to be anti-Federal.

Demetrio leads through force of action, but when a Federal deserter, Luis Cervantes, arrives with his city education and, initially at least, his strong sense of ideals for the Revolution, the group find they have a spokesman who can express why they are fighting.

As the war grinds on, Demetrio's band experience some success, but along the way they become corrupted by greed and revenge.  Petty killings occur on the flimsiest of pretexts, and robbery and looting become the order of the day.  Eventually they come to be feared and hated by the peasentry in turn as the federal soldiers who burn Demetrio's home were hated by them. Cervantes uses the power of his speech to set Demetrio up as a great general, with Cervantes rising in power at his side.  The city man though can see which way the wind blows, and as the Revolution begins to turn on those people it was meant to serve, he flees the fighting with his war loot and sets himself up in business.

When the gang eventually return home they can find no peace.  Demetrio is asked why he keeps on fighting, but after two years the fighting has come to define his life and he can see no other purpose for it.

The Underdogs chronicles the failures of the Mexican Revolution as it turns on the very people it was meant to serve.  In its unflinching treatment of the main characters and Azuela's depiction of men changed by war and greed, it paints a picture which has become more familiar to us in more recent war books and films, particularly those concerning the American involvement in Vietnam.

An interesting read that introduced to me a period of history I knew nothing about, but which makes clear the eternal pointlessness and brutalising nature of war.
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