Battles in the Desert and Other Stories
by José Emilio Pacheco
Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
For those readers of Latin American literature who are tired of being fed a particularly monochrome image of Mexico––replete with virgins rising into the heavens sheathed in white gowns, with idealized peasants, tortillas in hand, staring off at the volcano in deep contemplation of The Revolution That Cannot Fail––José Emilio Pacheco will come as a welcome relief. One of Mexico’s leading poets, he has also successfully ventured into the area of the short story and the novel. Battles in the Desert & Other Stories, a collection of short fiction that deals mainly with themes of childhood and innocence betrayed, is the first book of Pacheco’s fiction to appear in English. Here there are no narrative arabesques, no flights of magical-realist fancy. Instead, Pacheco confronts the reader with the uglier sides of urban Mexico––its grime, its beggars, its suffocating pollution, the constricted lives of its lower middle class––all with a simplicity and directness of style impeccably shaped and clearly distilled. Pacheco himself has said that he believes that his work could never really appeal to anyone outside of Mexico City. Yet none of us lives very far from the city he so implacably portrays. His sinking, stinking metropolis becomes a metaphor for something much larger and threatening, and we respond with natural feeling to his quiet-spoken outrage. Battles in the Desert & Other Stories, a companion volume to the author’s bilingual Selected Poems, includes work written over a period of two decades. The stories were translated by Katherine Silver, who has also translated Pacheco’s poetry.